Equipment issues have made it a challenging season for Olympic medallists doubles lugers Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, but there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel heading into the Beijing Olympics.
Cochranite Walker and Calgarian Snith, both 30, are now veterans of the young Canadian luge team. They're currently wrapping up their World Cup circuit this weekend in St. Moritz, Switzerland before heading to Beijing for their fourth Olympics appearance.
Walker took time from his intense training reign for an interview with Cochrane Now last night.
"This year has been fairly challenging," admits Walker. "We've been battling some equipment issues for the majority of the season, but in the last few World Cup races we've seemed to have started to settle everything down, and it's the right time for things to start working."
Last weekend in Oberhof, Germany, on a track that has been kind to the duo, Walker and Snith won their second consecutive National Cup in advance of World Cup competition. The following day, they battled to their second top-10 finish of the World Cup season, placing ninth overall.
"That wasn't even with two particularly good runs. We're still learning and adapting, but once we can nail down those two pieces of the puzzles, we could potentially be back into the fight a little bit."
The World Cup circuit is the path to the ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics.
"I'm really just looking forward to sliding and getting there to do the job I've been training to do for four years. That's the most important part for me."
He isn't about to make any predictions.
"I think for a lot of the younger guys, it will be going to get experience, very similar to where we were in 2010. For Justin and I, with the issues that we've been having with the equipment, it's hard to make a prediction, but the goal is always to go and perform the best that we can and see what the time clock says afterward."
Lugers bullet along the course at speeds of up to 150 kph. The track is 1,710 metres (5,610 ft) long, including braking distance. The current doubles Olympic record time is 1 minute, 22.705 seconds set in 2010.
As senior members of the luge team, Walker and Snith are now helping to mentor Canada's future sliding stars. It's a role Walker enjoys.
"We'll be showing this young squad through their first Olympics and hopefully setting them on the path so they'll be ready for the next one."
"To be honest, I'd like to think it's helped me as much as it's helped our young rookie teammates by being able to play that leadership and sometimes even pseudo coach role. I like that if you can't explain something the way that you understand it to help someone else understand it, it makes you rethink the entire set, and look at it a different way."
In the past, Walker has hinted this may be the last Olympics for the duo, but no decision has been reached.
"We haven't ruled out 2026 completely, but I think I'll take a hiatus from the sport for a least a little while. I'd like to finish off my commercial helicopter pilot license and maybe get a little bit established in the helicopter industry before going back to sliding."
The Beijing Olympics open on Feb 4. Walker and Snith will be competing in the doubles event on Feb. 9 and the relay event on Feb. 10.
Tristan began sliding at age 10 and was selected to join the Junior Luge program after attending a recruitment camp in 2001. Tristan had an immediate impact on the international luge circuit, where he captured a silver medal at the Junior World Cup and slid to four top-10 finishes, placing sixth overall on the season.
Walker wasted no time building from that early success in his career. He took a major step forward in his luge career in 2009-10 after advancing to the World Cup team at just 18-years-old with doubles partner Snith. The Canadian duo regularly placed in the top-15 and finished in 15th spot in their first Olympic Winter Games at the Whistler Sliding Centre despite being the youngest athletes in the field.
The duo made history in 2013, posting the best-ever finish by a Canadian doubles team at the World Championships when they finished fourth – one day before joining forces with their teammates to win the silver in the team relay. They narrowly missed out on the podium two more times before the end of the season at World Cup stops in Lake Placid, and on the 2014 Olympic track in Sochi, Russia.
The duo made history again as part of the silver medal Canadian relay team in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. They also placed fifth in the doubles competition.
Finding sponsorship has been challenging over the years, especially through the pandemic. Walker feels fortunate to once again be sponsored by Spray Lake Sawmills in their Olympic year.
"We’re very proud to have their logo on our sled. It means the world to me to have that hometown support."