If you watched the men's singles luge competition in Whistler four years ago, you pretty much saw the race in Russia Sunday: German Felix Loch standing a class apart with the gold medal, joined on the podium by Italy's 40-year-old wonder Armin Zoeggeler, who won bronze, his staggering sixth Olympic medal in the sport.
The only surprise, if you can call it that, was Russia's Albert Demchenko, another middle-aged wonder at age 42, winning the silver after coming fourth in 2010.
Canada's top hope in the event, 29-year-old Samuel Edney of Calgary, placed 11th – short of his and his coach's expectations after finishing seventh place in Whistler. With a cumulative four-run time of 3 minutes 29.77 seconds, Edney was just over 2.2 seconds behind Loch, and a full second out of the medals in a sport where racers exceed 140 kilometres an hour and races are often decided by hundredths of seconds.
"Right now, it's a bit disappointing for me. I came in here with a goal of getting a bit closer to the podium and giving myself a chance, hopefully, to make that jump," he said, sweat dripping off his face after the race. "I know that I gave it everything I had, which is something I can be proud of. In the end it's racing. If you come up short, that's how it is."
Wolfgang Staudinger, the coach of Canada's luge team, pointed out that while Edney's finish was disappointing, the gap between fifth place and eleventh was less than half a second, the result of "small errors." He said the rest of the luge world was still a league behind the likes of Loch and Zoeggeler.
Staudinger said Loch was the Usain Bolt of luge, almost unbeatable. "He's in his own class. He shows up, and the rest of the world watches him run away."
But the best hopes for Canada – and Edney – to win a first-ever luge medal still lie ahead later this week. Alex Gough, another Calgarian, is expected to be in the running for a podium spot after winning silver in each of her last two World Cup events. The 26-year-old Gough races her first two runs on Monday, then goes for the podium on Tuesday with the third and fourth races. Staudinger said Gough had come third in practice runs over the weekend.
Edney and Gough are also part of the four-person mixed luge relay team, along with doubles riders Justin Snith and Tristan Walker, that races Thursday. The relay team also won silver in its last World Cup race.
Mixed luge relay – which involves racers sitting up on their sleds to hammer a button over the finish line so that their teammates can start – is one of 12 new men's, women's or mixed competitions new to the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"We've got a great chance to do something that's really great for luge in Canada," Ebney said of the team's medal aspirations. "That's my hope is that we can be up there. … [A medal] is absolutely the goal. We've proven we can be there."
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