Slid­ing into his­tory, Gough broke new ground for Canada

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - SPORTS - DONNA SPENCER

CAL­GARY — Alex Gough will have a farewell slide on her home track Satur­day when Canada’s most dec­o­rated luger an­nounces her re­tire­ment.

The 31- year- old Cal­gar­ian was the first Cana­dian to win an Olympic medal in luge when she claimed bronze in women’s sin­gles in Fe­bru­ary’s Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

That Olympic break­through pre­ceded an­other two days later when Gough, Sam Ed­ney, Justin Snith and Tris­tan Walker won sil­ver in the team re­lay in Pyeongchang.

Gough was mar­ried in 2016 and is in her third year of civil en­gi­neer­ing stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary.

She hasn’t raced this sea­son. Gough will make her re­tire­ment run prior to Satur­day’s women’s com­pe­ti­tion at a World Cup in Cal­gary.

“I’m just div­ing into ev­ery­thing that’s com­ing next for me and I’ve been busy all sum­mer, busy this fall,” Gough said. “I’m pretty at peace with the de­ci­sions that I made.”

In Cana­dian slid­ing sports, luge took a back seat while Cana­di­ans won Olympic medals in bob­sleigh and skele­ton through the 1990s and first decade of this cen­tury.

Cana­di­ans won an oc­ca­sional World Cup medal in luge af­ter the 1988 Win­ter Olympics in Cal­gary, but Gough was the first to be a consistent medal threat and chal­lenge Ger­many’s dom­i­na­tion.

She snapped a run of 105 con­sec­u­tive wins by Ger­man women when she claimed her first World Cup vic­tory Feb. 12, 2011 in Para­monovo, Rus­sia.

Gough owns six world cham­pi­onship medals, in­clud­ing women’s sin­gles bronze in 2011 and 2013, team re­lay sil­ver in 2013 and team re­lay bronze in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

She has won 27 World Cup medals in women’s sin­gles — in­clud­ing three gold — as well as an­other 16 World Cup medals in the re­lay with the dou­bles team of Walker and Snith and most of­ten Ed­ney as team­mates.

“In a word, it’s def­i­nitely a legacy,” Snith said. “From the begin­ning of her ca­reer, she was al­ways a fighter.”

Walker be­lieves Gough’s bronze in Pyeongchang paved the way for the re­lay sil­ver.

“I don’t think we would have medalled in the re­lay if she didn’t medal in her race,” Walker said. “It to­tally put the team into a mind­set that was ca­pa­ble of win­ning.”

Gough grew up in Cal­gary at­tend­ing the Na­tional Sport School and train­ing on the WinS­port slid­ing track, which was the slid­ing venue for the ’ 88 Win­ter Olympics in the city.

“Since she started win­ning medals, we have mostly girls in our pro­gram,” Luge Canada ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tim Farstad said. “It can’t be a co­in­ci­dence.

“Young girls are say­ing ‘ Alex Gough, I want to go win medals like her.’ From re­cruit­ment all the way up, we’ve seen a big in­crease in girls in the sport.”

Gough’s as­cen­dency and that of her team­mates co­in­cided with Luge Canada’s 2007 hir­ing of Wolf­gang Staudinger from the powerhouse Ger­man sys­tem to be the head coach of the na­tional team.

The Cana­dian team has also grad­u­ated 34- year- old Ed­ney, who said in Pyeongchang the re­lay was his last slide.

Ed­ney was the first Cana­dian man to claim a World Cup gold in 2015 when he was vic­to­ri­ous in Cal­gary. He also col­lected a World Cup sil­ver and a bronze in men’s sin­gles dur­ing his ca­reer.

The Cana­di­ans’ suc­cesses were not with­out set­backs.

Gough, Ed­ney, Snith and Walker all fin­ished fourth in the 2014 Win­ter Olympics in Sochi, Rus­sia, just off the podium in women’s sin­gles, dou­bles and the team re­lay.

In the weeks be­fore the 2018 Win­ter Games, they were briefly up­graded to re­lay bronze and dropped to fourth again when two Rus­sians ini­tially stripped of their 2014 re­sults for al­leged dop­ing had that de­ci­sion over­turned by the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport.

Canada’s luge team an­tic­i­pated a break­through at home dur­ing the 2010 Win­ter Games in Van­cou­ver and Whistler, B. C.

The death of No­dar Ku­mar­i­tashvili of Ge­or­gia in a pre- Games train­ing crash at the Whistler Slid­ing Cen­tre shocked the luge com­mu­nity and prompted the mov­ing of the start houses to lower points on the track for those games, which negated the home- track ad­van­tage for the host team.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Cal­gary’s Alex Gough cel­e­brates win­ning a bronze medal in women’s luge at the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympic Games in Fe­bru­ary. Gough will of­fi­cially an­nounce her re­tire­ment on Satur­day.

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