ONE FI­NAL RIDE

Cal­gar­i­ans ALEX GOUGH and SAM ED­NEY bid farewell to their su­per­star luge ca­reers

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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.”

GETTY IM­AGES THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

TODD SAEL­HOF Luge

LUGE CANADA THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

Sam Ed­ney par­tic­i­pated in four Olympics dur­ing his ca­reer.

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