So close: Canadian lugers miss Sochi podium by a whisker
Canada's Tristan Walker (right) and Justin Snith race in the first of two races to end up with a 4th place finish in the Men's Doubles Luge at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Feb. 12, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 12, 2014 2:08PM EST
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Canada's Tristan Walker and Justin Snith know all too well just how cruel the sport of luge can be at times.
They were a whisker away from becoming the first Canadians to win an Olympic luge medal Wednesday night, coming just five-100ths of a second short of a podium appearance at the Sochi Games.
Their sixth career fourth-place finish hurt a little more because it was such a slim margin -- faster than a blink of an eye. But it's that cruelty that keeps the 22-year-old Canadians focused and determined.
"I think that's why I do it, because every once in a while it happens the other way around," Walker said. "We know we're capable of doing that.
"We're capable of sliding with the best in the world, we proved it tonight."
Walker, from Cochrane, Alta., and Snith, from Calgary, had two strong runs at the Sanki Sliding Centre and were sitting third overall when the final duo came down the track.
Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany posted the fastest time of the second run to move into top spot and knock the Canadians to fourth. Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger won silver and Latvia's Andris and Juris Sics took bronze.
The Canadians will get another chance to make that Olympic breakthrough in Thursday's team relay event.
"It's tough but we have to take that into tomorrow," Walker said. "We know the challenges now."
Walker and Snith were the first pair to race and set a track record with their opening time of 49.857 seconds. The second run of 49.983 left them fourth in 1:39.840, almost a full second behind the leaders.
It was still the best-ever Canadian result at the Olympics in the men's doubles competition. The previous best was a fifth-place showing by Eric Pothier and Chris Moffat at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
Walker said it left him with mixed emotions.
"It's definitely a consolation prize," he said. "It's like the blue ribbon you get when you compete in the sports school day."
Like all sliding sports, a strong start is paramount in luge. In doubles competition, one athlete sits on the back of the sled while the teammate in front grips the handles at the start.
They propel themselves forward before leaning all the way back and settling in to reach top speeds of 135 km/h on the 17-curve track. The Sanki course is over two kilometres long and includes three uphill sections designed to slow the sleds down.
Walker and Snith made their Olympic debut at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, finishing 15th overall. They were the youngest doubles luge team to represent Canada at a Winter Games.
On Thursday, they'll team up with Calgary sliders Alex Gough and Sam Edney in the relay competition.
"We know we can be with the best in the world right now," Walker said. "We know every person on the team is capable of sliding up there.
"It's definitely a hard one to swallow, especially with that five-100ths of a second but it's possible. It's possible to get a medal tomorrow for sure."
The doubles duo has made big strides in recent years, reaching the podium in team relay events and finishing fourth in the doubles at the 2013 world championships. They said they made one "tiny mistake" at Turn 3 and that might have been the difference.
"They did a fantastic job racing today," said coach Wolfgang Staudinger. "Two good starts, two solid runs and missed out by five-100ths. What do you do? Out of luck."
It was the second straight near-miss for Canada in luge after Gough finished fourth in the women's competition a day earlier.
Staudinger said while difficult, Walker and Snith need to stay focused and come back strong in the relay.
"They were mentally in the right spot, physically and athletically in the right spot, they were at the best at the right time," he said. "But in the field and in the sport of luge, this is very different than many, many other sports. There is no room for weakness.
"We didn't show any weakness, it was just not lucky enough today."
The veteran coach added he has given them the same message ahead of the final event: stay tenacious.
"Keep banging your head and when it hurts you keep banging harder," Staudinger said. "Eventually (success) happens.
"But tomorrow is another day, another chance and (you) go for it."