“Everyone is quite hungry to get to the table and get eating,” Walter Corey, high performance director for Luge Canada, said while apologizing for sounding off a cliché when discussing the upcoming season.
This week Canada’s top lugers, along with athletes from other sliding sports, were in Whistler for track time. The Whistler Sliding Centre – home to luge, bobsleigh and skeleton at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games – is the fastest ice track in the world. In these high-speed disciplines, it’s up to sport leaders and coaches like Corey to make their athletes slide faster.
“We push everyone quite hard this time of the season to maximize our chances later in the year,” Corey told Olympic.ca from Whistler, where his team of experienced coaches, veteran and young athletes are preparing for the 2015-16 World Cup season.
“Everyone in the world has been trying hard, trying to be the best they can be. It’s difficult to really know what kind of season we’re going to have.”
Joining Corey for the conversation was Kimberley McRae, the fifth place women’s finisher at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. McRae’s four-run combined time at the last Winter Games placed her one spot behind teammate Alex Gough. McRae has employed a new tactic this summer to help her in the upcoming World Cup season.
“I joined taekwondo in March. I was looking for an extra curricular activity outside of luge in the summer that was a little bit low impact,” McRae said, revealing that she also tried kickboxing before finding a better fit with the martial art to help develop her mental focus.
“You have to be calm in taekwondo, you have to be able to move through with fluid motions, it’s same with luge, to have that focus while having fun.”
Some of the benefits of her summer regimen included increased body awareness, quicker reactions and better overall movement, all of which are vital for luge athletes. The additional offseason work was challenging at times for McRae, who is also trying to get heavier for this “gravity-based sport.”
“It has always been a struggle for me to gain weight,” McRae said, crediting a naturally fast metabolism that the 23-year old believes is levelling out. The idea is to spend fewer calories than she takes in, but with taekwondo adding another cardio session to her day weight gain proved difficult. Nonetheless, for McRae the benefits were a net positive.
“The rewards were endless; being there, being able to learn a new technique. Coordination wise – where I’m not the strongest – having different movements to learn really challenged my body.”
Sliding faster involves much more than bulk. Corey seems thrilled with McRae’s overall ability to grow as an athlete, especially going out on her own to embrace improvement techniques.
“There’s a whole bunch of components – including weight gain – that are critical to the success of an athlete,” Corey said.
“The sport of luge is quite competitive, we’re timed to a thousandth of a second. We’re always looking for ways to continually enhance each one of our athletes’ abilities to be the best possible when they hit the ice.”
Last season Canadians found seven World Cup podiums, including men’s singles gold and three more medals at a wildly successful stop in Calgary, the team’s home base. The men’s winner, Sam Edney, is taking a year off to attend school while his body recovers from a punishing 2014-15 season.
Gough, who found four podiums last season (including a silver in Calgary), is the face of Luge Canada. Corey is upbeat about the chance for others to step up in Edney’s absence, including McRae to become a mainstay for their sport alongside 28-year old Gough, one of the best in the world at her craft.
“The highlight for us is that (McRae) is continuing to mature, round out her talent in new directions.”
While Corey admits offseason work doesn’t guarantee competition success, he is buoyed by one of his athletes searching for long term benefits through other disciplines.
“It’s really an enhancement to make her be the best version of herself that she can be. It’s a positive step forward both from a maturity and performance standpoint.”
The 2015-16 World Cup season begins on November 28 in Ingls, Austria, ending the weekend of February 20-21 Winterberg, Germay. The only Canadian stop begins on December 18 in Calgary. The luge World Championship is on January 30 in Konigssee, Germany.