Two-time Olympian Alex Gough says she had an active lifestyle growing up and was able to explore a variety of sports including Swimming, Gymnastics, Soccer, Soccer and Skiing. However, it was a decision her mom took when Gough was 13 that would shape the next half of her life.
Her mom, Zan Aycock, heard about a Luge recruitment camp from family friends and decided to sign up her pre-teen daughter knowing that growing up in Calgary offered opportunities most kids would not have with an Olympic track nearby.
“We thought it would be something neat and keep me busy on weeknights in the winter,” said Gough. “I hadn’t found something that stuck and I got to try it and I loved it. Imagine being a kid racing down a hill.”
A self proclaimed daredevil, Gough said she had a vague idea of what she was getting herself into but knew it looked like fun. Soon, what started off as a recreational activity would develop into an international career that has Gough ranked as the most successful slider in the history of the Canadian Luge Association.
A six-time national champion, Gough has had a steady climb through the rankings since making a surprise appearance as a member of the Olympic team in 2006.
“I didn’t even think myself that I would go in 2006 and was looking at 2010 (as her first Winter Game),” said Gough. “In the fall of 2005 I was bumped up to the national team and it was my first year racing in the World Cup. Most of my focus was on just trying to qualify for races and get down to tracks I hadn’t been to. I almost didn’t even realize I qualified for the Olympics. I was a wide eye kid going into it and soaked up the experience.”
An unexpected trip to Torino for the then 19-year-old, who would race to a 20th place finish, would become an invaluable opportunity for the growth of a young athlete still looking to make her mark.
Gough returned to the Games four years later and said she felt let down by her showing in Vancouver.
“The competition itself was not what we hoped it would be and it was disappointing,” said Gough of her eventual 18th place finish. “It was hard for me. My mom afterwards told me that the Olympics are all about heroes and heartbreak and unfortunately I was part of the latter.”
Fuelled by what she thought was unfulfilled potential, Gough broke through as a serious threat on the world stage in 2011 when she became the first Canadian-born athlete to win a medal at the Luge World Championships after she finished in third place. But it was on February 12, 2011 when the world really started to take notice as Gough snapped Germany’s 105-race winning streak in women’s Luge, ending a run that lasted nearly 14 years.
In total, Gough has now won nine World Cup medals including a gold medal on her home track in Calgary in 2011 and two bronze medals to start the 2012-13 season. A remarkably consistent slider, Gough has finished in the top-six in all of her races this season. Something she hopes to carry into the Luge World Championships in Whistler, BC this weekend.
“The season started strong for me,” said Gough. “I felt like I had two really good races in Austria and Germany with a couple of podiums. My last couple races haven’t been as strong, but I’m looking forward to this week and being at home with a track I’m really comfortable on.”
The World Championships have been kind to Gough. Along with the bronze in 2011, she has finished in fourth in 2009 and 2012 and captured team relay bronze last year in 2012 – a unique race that puts an individual woman, man and a pairs team together in an event that will make its Olympic debut at the 2014 Winter Games.
The 25-year-old Gough will join forces with Sam Edney, 28, and a doubles tandem of Tristan Walker, 21, and Justin Snith, 20, in hopes of bettering their third place finish of last year. The foursome has already captured two silver medals at World Cups this year.
“We’ve been together on the national team for a while,” said Gough about why the team gels so well. “For us it’s just a lot of fun and a great group environment to compete in a team together. It’s a team effort and we don’t get that a lot with our sport because it’s individual events. We try to make it fun and lighthearted and it usually works out for us.”
The prospect of racing on a familiar track and in front of family is something Gough is looking forward to, especially with the memories of the 2010 Games still with her. A better and more mature slider, Gough is looking to make up for that disappointment.
“The opportunity to race at home on a World Championship stage where I have the preparation is going to be amazing,” said Gough. “I feel really good going in. It’s almost a redemption feeling. I’m looking forward to being there with tons and friends and family there and the crowd cheering us on. It’s exciting for me because it’s always fun to have the people who support you all the time see what you do.”
And you can bet her mom will be in the stands on behalf of an entire nation cheering her on.
– George Fadel