It has now been six years since Alex Gough figured out she could beat German women.
That sounds strange, but it’s true. Until Gough came along, the Germans hadn’t lost a World Cup race in 13 years.
In Germany, the sport is widely celebrated. And for good reason. Since Nagano 1998, German women have won 10 of 12 Olympic medals, and are four-time defending Olympic champions.
Alex Gough is naturally shy. She glances down thoughtfully when asked about her world-beating realization, “I started to put it together in 2008-09, I guess. I started to have good consistent races and realize I’m still quite a ways behind at the start but still having top-10 finishes. What happens if I can put my starts together and start competing with the top in the world right from the beginning? From there it was just putting in the hard work and getting my starts in order and continuing to build on my consistency down the track.”
Gough turned that realization into a singular focus and is now among the fastest starters in the world. Luge athletes use a pair of handles to rock back and forth before launching themselves into the track, so she improved her core and upper-body power.
Using a 2013 World Championships bronze medal to further stock her confidence, Gough has been excellent this World Cup season, “Olympic years are always tough, everything gets a little closer and a little tighter. Everyone is stepping up their game, I’m just trying to step up as well and rise to the challenge of the Olympic season,” she says.
Gough, (which rhymes with ‘cough’), has had a strong World Cup tour. Coming into the Games she is third overall, sandwiched between four Germans on either side to make up the top five.
An Olympic medal is not a hope, but part of the plan she says, “That’s certainly the goal, ultimately that’s where I want to be. For me all of the focus is on performance and process rather than looking for certain results, and knowing that if I’m able to put together the performance that I want the result will likely be there.”
It’s incredible how often the word, ‘process’ comes up in conversation with successful athletes. Us regular folk should learn something. And the 26-year-old Calgarian takes it even further, “The key things for me are feeling really good and having great explosive starts and then to lay down and relax. Enjoy the ride down the track because the more I enjoy it the more relaxed I’m going to be, and the better I’m going to slide.”
That really seems like a contradiction. Relaxing at 130 kilometres per hour. While laying down on a sled. Not to mention the G-forces around corners. But Alex Gough, in her own reserved way, is a contradiction to the sport of luge.
No one is supposed to beat the Germans. But this week in Sochi, a Canadian just might.
WHO: Alex Gough, Kimberley McRae and Arianne Jones
WHAT: Women’s Luge
Women’s Singles run 1 and 2 starts Monday, February 10 at 9:45 am ET
Women’s Singles run 3 and 4 starts Tuesday, February 11 at 9:30 am ET