Young Canadian luge team has lots to learn

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

It might be a reach to expect medals from the Canadian luge team this February at the Turin Winter Olympics, but that doesn't mean it won't be a good bet for Vancouver 2010.

The luge team -- all 14, the biggest Canadian team ever -- rolled through Toronto yesterday for a media event before hopping a plane tomorrow to Sigulda, Latvia, to tune up for the first World Cup event of the season next week.

The team yesterday was saying all the right things: "It feels like our program has shifted from one where we're just happy to be here to one that is really raising the bar," said Regan Lauscher, 25, of Red Deer, Alta., who took Canada's first-ever World Cup silver medal at Lake Placid last season. "We don't just want the free jacket, the participation plaque."

But when one looks at the youngest luge team on the internatonal circuit, up against more senior and experienced European teams like Germany and Austria, it might be best to look at Turin as a good developmental opportunity for a luge program that's still very much finding its legs.

Remember, Canada only sent one doubles team to the Nagano Olympics in 1998, and two doubles teams, three men's singles athletes and one women's single to the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. This team represents a huge jump.

"It can be intimidating (going up against the more experienced European teams)," said Madison Dupuis, 18, the reigning national women's singles champ, and the youngest member of the team. "Especially the first time you go to a World Cup and you see all these people who have won medals. But we do a lot of track walks. We watch them when they're sliding, trying to learn from them."

Jeff Christie, the 2005 national champion, points to the four tracks in Germany and that nation's focus on developmental junior luge athletes as a big advantage for them, plus the advantage the Italians have with the Olympics being staged on their home track. "I wouldn't say we're 100% on (the German's) behinds, but we're getting there," he said.

Still, national team coach Walter Corey is realistic, while not not downbeat.

"No doubt we're at a disadvantage in Torino with a younger team.

"The standard cliche is the road to Vancouver runs through Torino," he said. "But we're telling our athletes the Olympic experience only comes along every four years, so why not swallow the challenge and kick some ass anyway?"


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