CALGARY – Three-time Olympic gold medalist Tristan Walker didn’t start sledding while sledding on a snow-covered hill, but Luge Canada recruitment came on with no access to a slide in Calgary.
On a 100-meter, two-cornered snow course carved into a slope at Canada Olympic Park, children ages 10-14 get their first taste of luge in the hope that they will enjoy it.
Less than a kilometer to the west is the slide built for the 1988 Winter Olympics. It has been closed for two years pending a $ 25 million renovation.
Sam Edney, now Luge Canada’s top executive, and Walker were members of the Canadian team that won a silver medal for the Olympic relay three years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
When Edney and Walker were 13 and nine years old respectively, they slipped the lower part of Calgary’s track on their first day at the Discover Luge camps at COP.
“My first contact with luge was on the track that was built for the 1988 Olympics,” said Walker.
“At that point, I wasn’t going to the Olympics. As my father says, it was $ 25 to get me out of my hair for an afternoon.”
The children who register for this month’s recruitment camps slide down the “natural toboggan” snow trails on modified toboggan sleds.
There is an international luge track, but it’s not an Olympic event.
The recruitment camps in Calgary give the youth a taste of the sledges, but not the artificially frozen track.
“We are trying to expose as many people as possible to the sport with the current scenario we are facing,” said Edney, a four-time Olympic gold medalist.
“There is no question that the closure of this track will be a major blow to our program.
“My greatest enjoyment has been that you are essentially in that frozen waterslide and you can compete against your competitors, even if it is your first weekend that you try.”
“We’re trying to mimic this as closely as we can with what we get on the natural luge track, but it’s definitely not exactly the same feeling or exhilaration that you get on the man-made track.”
Calgary’s urban slideway is the only one in the world built in a city of over a million people. Others are further away.
It has been home to the national bobsleigh, skeleton and luge teams for over three decades. The teams relate heavily to the local population.
Canadians have won a total of eight Olympic medals in bobsleigh and skeleton since 1988, including four gold medals.
Canadian tobogganers won Olympic medals in Pyeongchang for the first time with the relay silver and Alex Gough’s bronze in the women’s singles.
The slideway built for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, BC, is newer but is located in a less populated ski town.
“It’s huge to still have this track in Calgary,” said Walker. “As good as the Whistler track is, there just aren’t enough people.
“It’s too far for families in Vancouver to train daily or weekly for a nine- and ten-year-old athlete.”
According to the archives of WinSport, formerly the Calgary Olympic Development Association, the cost of building the track in Calgary was $ 18.8 million.
The provincial and federal governments combined allocated $ 17 million for a renovation that would replace the cooling system and alter the upper portion of the route.
WinSport, whose revenues at COP have been weighed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, will have to raise an additional $ 8 million to complete the Reno.
The caretaker of much of Calgary’s ’88 legacy says government funding remains in place and WinSport remains committed to the renovation.
“We haven’t given up on the project in any way,” WinSport said in a statement.
Meanwhile, 10-year-old Scarlett Jochumsen has returned to recruitment camps several times to navigate the snow trail.
“Me and my dad usually watch it every winter so I knew I really wanted to try,” Jochumsen said. “It’s just fun. I like the speed and how you have to learn to turn in different ways.”
This Canadian press report was first published on March 19, 2021.