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Luge athletes ready for anything

2020-21 season approaches with some uncertainty
STRANGE SEASON Natalie Corless (shown completing an FIL World Cup doubles run with Caitlin Nash) is prepared for a long season of training primarily at the Whistler Sliding Centre in 2020-21. File photo by Dan Falloon

Canada’s national luge team will spend much of the season on home ice at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

Earlier this month, Luge Canada announced that its senior team would forgo the four pre-Christmas World Cup races. 

“Over the past few weeks, we have weighed all of our options and risks that may arise while travelling with this team of athletes throughout Europe,” Luge Canada’s high-performance director Sam Edney said in a release. “These athletes are a young group, and obviously, quarantine restrictions complicate things for us in bringing them home for the holiday break, so we felt the safest thing to do is to stay home, and train on one of the top tracks in the world in our own backyard.”

Canadian athletes are currently slated to start the season at Konigssee, Germany on Jan. 2 and 3, skipping the next week’s race at Sigulda, Latvia to stay at the track to train for World Championships at the same track later in the month, before rejoining the circuit for stops at Oberhof, Germany and Igls, Austria before World Champs. The season will end in China at the Olympic test event near Beijing.

For Whistler’s Reid Watts, currently the only male competitor on the senior team, the time on home soil is appreciated. 

“It’s such a weird situation right now and either way we take it, I’m happy that we get the chance to race this year,” he said. “Missing out on the first half of the season, I actually think it’s good time for us to have at home.”

One major benefit of the team’s extended time in Whistler will be to perfect its sleds with new assistant coach Duncan Kennedy, who excels on the technical side.

“No matter what, big or small, it always takes time to dial it down and make sure it’s running fast,” Watts said. 

In terms of Olympic qualifying, meanwhile, the intensity doesn’t ramp up until the 2021 portion season anyway, with 2021-22 being the most significant period.

As for junior athletes, Luge Canada will determine the course of action for 2021 in late December.

Natalie Corless, who made her World Cup debut with Caitlin Nash in Whistler last year, becoming the first female athletes to line up in doubles, expects to be part of the junior program this season.

“The senior team is going to be quite small just because of restrictions for travel and they just want us to be as safe as possible,” said Corless, who turns 17 next month. “Right now, the way it’s looking is that I’m going to be with the juniors again this year.”

Corless anticipates the bulk of the season will be training at the Whistler Sliding Centre, and she has been told that there is the possibility of heading to Europe for training in the New Year.

She appreciates the opportunity to work closely alongside the senior team members for the several weeks they will all be at the track together.

“It will be a good opportunity to learn from them and we’ll be able to get into their environment,” said Corless.

There will be a little bit of competition as part of the season. In addition to the national events, Luge Canada is set to host a pair of Junior World Cup events exclusively for Canadian athletes from Dec. 8 to 13.

Corless, who won the youth ‘A’ women’s singles Crystal Globe and, alongside Nash, the women’s doubles Crystal Globe in 2018-19, will miss the international competition this year, but understands why it’s necessary.

Being on her home track of Whistler, Corless will be able to fine tune the basics while also further improving her doubles familiarity with Nash.

“At first, I was a little disappointed,” she said. “It’s going to be good to step back and be able to develop our skills again.

“At least we still get the opportunity to come back in the future even stronger.”

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Dan Falloon

About the Author: Dan Falloon

Dan has worked as Pique's sports editor since 2014 after stops at Canstar Community News (Winnipeg), the Portage Daily Graphic and the Fort Frances Times.
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