ONE FINAL RIDE
Calgarians ALEX GOUGH and SAM EDNEY bid farewell to their superstar luge careers
Alex Gough put it best about sliding off into the sunset.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” said the 31-year-old Calgarian this week on the eve of her retirement from competitive sports. “Absolutely there will be hugs (Saturday morning at WinSport). There may some beer, too.” Yup, it’ll be a celebration alright. Gough goes out hand in hand with good friend Sam Edney, her Canadian male equivalent in the sport, as both retire with the amazing distinction of being the country’s most decorated luge athletes.
Edney will await the arrival of Gough at the finish line after her final run on Saturday at 9:35 a.m., a ceremonial slide at the Viessmann Luge World Cup on the track that played such a critical role in their development of becoming luge superstars.
They’ll be joined by family, friends and former coaches, teammates and support staff for a nod to the German roots of the sport, with a Canadian twist, as the only two Canucks ever to win a luge World Cup race will toast a Canadian brew while passing the torch off to the next generation who will be sliding toward the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and beyond.
“It really is mostly about the people that I got to experience it all with,” said Gough, 31, reflecting on a heralded career that has included 13 years on the national team. “I think it’s been and incredible journey with lots of major highs and some real challenges.”
The ‘challenges’ are mostly forgotten these days, trumped by success unrivalled by any other luge athlete Canada has ever produced.
Plus, Gough was one of the globe’s best on a sleigh.
In February 2011, the Calgarian became the first Canadian luger to ever win gold in a World Cup race. That halted a 105-race German win string in women’s World Cup competition, a run of success that spanned more than 13 years.
That same season, Gough slid to win the country’s first-ever world championship women’s luge medal when she claimed bronze.
That ignited Gough’s consistency at or near the top of the luge world over the next four campaigns, as she placed in the top five of the World Cup standings each year. Her best standing was second overall in 2014, thanks to medal performances at six of the nine World Cup stops.
Gough slid to another bronze at the 2013 world championships in Whistler, B.C., on a track where she fell short during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics three years earlier.
Canada’s top luger was also a key cog in the team relay, as Gough and her Canuck teammates captured one silver medal and three bronze honours in four world championships from 2012-16.
Then came South Korea and the 2018 Games, where she became the first Canadian luge athlete to win an Olympic medal in singles racing with her bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Also, Gough enjoyed team relay silver-medal success in at those Games with Edney and the tandem of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith to become a double Olympic medallist four years after her heartbreak of fourth-place finishes in both the women’s singles and team relay events in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“Obviously the Pyeongchang Games in February was the height of where I got to and where we got to as a team,” Gough said. “It was a culmination of all the steps — the successes and the setbacks along the way — and all of it came together in the right way in February.
“Even if I were to continue and try again for another four years (of the Olympic cycle), I don’t think I could beat this past year. With all of the story of Sochi and coming full circle and with being able to be there with that particular group of people, especially with what we’ve been through and with how long we’ve been together, it was really special in Pyeongchang.
“I’m very at peace with the decision to retire. I kind of knew after the Pyeongchang Games that I was likely done. And then I made the decision not to come back to training in the spring. I’m going
to cherish Pyeongchang and leave (my career) be where it is, because I’m so happy with it.”
Gough is also happy with where her post-luge life is headed.
Amid studies in civil engineering at the University of Calgary, Gough took a co-op position in Calgary over the summer, and it seems she now has a blueprint for the future.
“The summer kind of solidified that I was more excited about what comes next and pursuing something else than I was driven to continue with luge,” Gough added. “And all the little things you don’t really get to do when you’re focused on sport, I’m getting a chance to do now.
“So now I’m officially saying goodbye to competing and luge. It’s a good decision. It’s time. And I’m really fortunate to be able to pick when that time is.”
Sam Edney helped introduce Gough to the sport of luge some 15 years ago, thanks mostly to their friendship through their families.
“Maybe I should take all the credit for her success, because she was a natural right off the bat,” said Edney, 34, with a chuckle.
“So I should take some props for that and put that on my resumé.” No need, Sam.
Your luge resumé is plenty star-studded enough.
Try three world championship medals and that silver in the team relay in Pyeongchang.
Edney became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup race, sliding to gold at Calgary’s World Cup stop — along with earning a World Cup silver medal at Canada Olympic Park. He added World Cup bronze at the Olympic track in South Korea.
Then, of course, he scored that team relay silver, alongside Gough, Snith and Walker, at the Pyeongchang Games — his last of four Olympic appearances.
To boot, the Calgarian slid to sixth in singles at those Games, surpassing his own seventh-place finish at Vancouver 2010 for Canada’s bestever Olympic result among men.
“It’s nice to reflect back now after having a few months to really think about it,” said Edney, now fully removed from the sliding scene after retiring earlier this year. “It really allowed me just to reflect on what I’ve achieved and the lessons I’ve learned and the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. And it feels really special — there are moments that I’ll cherish for a long time.
“But also, there was just a real sense of being ready to take on a new challenge and see what’s next and see what other trouble I could get into.”
The ‘trouble’ is a career working now with a developer focused on architecturally creative infill design on Vancouver Island.
It follows getting his commerce degree at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., where Edney and his wife relocated three years ago to help prepare for life after luge.
But it didn’t take away from two decades of success on the track.
“Each season had some amazing highs and some crazy lows,” Edney said. “I almost retired after world championships in 2017. I had, I think, the worst world championship results of my career, and I was at what was supposed to be the peak of my athletic career. My parents were there — they came over to watch. And I said, ‘You know what, that’s it. I think I’m going to retire at the end of the season. I’m not going to make the push to Pyeongchang.’”
His attitude changed just one week later after a visit to South Korea.
It was there on the Olympic track where Edney became the first Canadian men’s singles luger to stand on a World Cup podium outside Canada by winning bronze during the Pyeongchang test event.
“That rewrote the books for me,” Edney said. “All of a sudden, I was, ‘OK, maybe I can commit to one more year.
“So there were some pretty crazy moments where there were whatifs — I had made the decision in my mind that that was it, and two weeks later, it was quickly changed.”
Of course, the 2018 Games followed with that silver success in the team relay, arguably the most memorable moment of his heralded run in the sport.
“It’s easy to say Pyeongchang and the Olympics and winning the silver medal, yeah,” Edney said. “That’s the natural moment that everybody’s going to think of because it’s fresh on the mind.
“But then I think back to all the other incredible memories that
I’ve had, like qualifying for my first Olympics,” Edney continued. “It was a big moment, because it’s something you strive for and you want to achieve so badly, and then it happens, and it makes all that sacrifice worth it. I think each time I qualified for the Olympics was a reminder that you’re achieving what you’re striving to do, and it’s a really amazing feeling to just to be able to say that you’re a part of Team Canada and you’re representing the Maple Leaf at that level.”
There were other big achievements, as well.
“Winning the first World Cup at home for a male was an incredible experience,” added Edney of his COP effort in December 2014.
“Not only was it amazing athletically, but I was able to be part of a great program — the Helmets For Heroes campaign — that was just getting off the ground, and
I was able to make a really good friend in Richard Flamenco, who was an inspiration and helped me with that weekend, so that was a really cool moment.
“As well getting to be on the road and being part of the national team for 17 years was something I never dreamt of happening in my career, and I think that was a true honour.”
Alex Gough became the first Canadian luge athlete to win an Olympic medal in singles racing with her bronze at the 2018 Games. Alex Gough, in the red bib, and Sam Edney, in green, celebrate with Tristan Walker and Justin Snith after the Canadians won relay silver at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sam Edney celebrates his World Cup victory in Calgary in December 2014. Alex Gough celebrates her silver in a World Cup event in Calgary in December 2017.
Sam Edney participated in four Olympics during his career.