Making one's Viessman FIL World Cup debut at the age of 16 is impressive enough.
To be trailblazers in the process, like the Whistler doubles team of Natalie Corless and Caitlin Nash, only adds to it.
The Whistler 16-year-olds successfully completed both runs of the Viessmann FIL World Cup doubles event at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Dec. 14, finishing 22nd out of 23 sleds, as one sled did not finish its second run. In becoming the first-ever women's doubles sled at the World Cup level, the pair was 2.695 seconds behind winners Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken of Germany. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, also of Germany, took second and Vsevelod Kashkin and Konstantin Korshunov of Russia were third. The duo also took home bronze in the America Pacific Championships, held concurrently withn the World Cup.
Corless said after the race that she was still soaking in the experience.
"It hasn't really set in. It was awesome doing this at home. We completed our goals, had good runs, had fast starts, had fast times," Corless said.
Nash, meanwhile, said her World Cup debut will stay with her forever.
"It was great hearing our friends and family cheering through [Corner] 16 and coming up the outrun. It's something we're never going to forget," Nash said. "We just wanted to be consistent and I think we proved that we are capable."
When sitting in the start, both sliders said they were glad that they were premiering in a doubles race so they could enjoy the experience together.
"You can definitely feel the nerves, but it was good to still focus and we've been doing it together. We keep each other calm, keep each other focused," Corless said.
"We feel like we have a good support system between the two of us. We rely on each other. We're good friends, so that really helps us a lot," Nash said.
This will be the pair's only World Cup this season, but they have other major events on their calendar, including the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland next month. Nash and Corless found out they had qualified last week
The other Canadian sled, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, was sixth, 0.392 seconds off the lead. Walker explained that they had mixed emotions about their day.
"We're really happy with our performance, a little disappointed with the result. The starts were awesome ... podium level starts. The runs were as close to perfect as you can in the sport of luge, so I think we need to take a look at how the sled's running a little bit," he said.
When trying to square the feeling of having two strong runs with finishing lower in the table than they felt they deserved, Walker said he and Snith try to "control the controllables."
"We know that there are other teams out there with virtually unlimited research and development budgets," he said. "Knowing that there's nothing we can do about it, we focus on our own game, focus on our mental preparation, focus on our physical preparation, be as fast as we can be. Hopefully at the end of the day, that will show in the results."
Walker said it was an honour to be present to watch fellow Canadians in Nash and Corless make history here in Whistler.
"We are really proud to call them our teammates. It was awesome to see history get made like that. Hopefully it's a push in the right direction to get the women their own category," he said. "There was a sled there that they almost got, which was really impressive."
Following the doubles race, Canadians struggled in BMW Sprint World Cup competition to wrap up the weekend, featuring the top 15 finishers from the regular World Cup races in the weekend. The top result came from the Walker and Snith sled in the doubles race, as the duo took 13th. The podium was unchanged from the World Cup contest, as Eggert and Benecken earned the win over Wendl and Arlt, and Kashkin and Korshunov.
In the women's race, Makena Hodgson and Carolyn Maxwell took 14th and 15th, respectively, with Russia's Tatyana Ivanova earning her second gold of the weekend over American Emily Sweeney and Germany's Cheyenne Rosenthal. No Canadians qualified for the men's race, in which Austria's Reinhard Egger topped Russia's Roman Repilov and fellow Austrian Jonas Mueller.
Russians dominant in singles action
Roman Repilov fell just two-thousandths of a second short of setting the Whistler Sliding Centre track record, but he still walked away with the men's singles victory on Dec. 13.
The Russian posted a second-run time of 49.839 seconds to jump from second to first and win the third stop of the season. German Felix Loch was 0.147 seconds back and Italy's Dominik Fischnaller was 0.171 seconds off the pace.
"My plan was to beat the track record," Repilov said. "My start was good in the second run. My lines were good."
Though it was his sophomore time racing the track, Repilov said he enjoys sliding here in Canada.
"I like Whistler. It's my second time [competing here]. It's the best track for the conditions I've seen this season and it's good for me," he said.
The top Canadian was Whistler's Reid Watts, who ended the day in 21st overall, 0.794 seconds back of Repilov.
Watts had endured some struggles already this season, finishing lower than he had hoped for. After finishing ninth in the Nation's Cup race on Thursday, he sought to make some changes heading into the big race, which didn't work. Watts had identified his starts as a problem early in the season, working hard on them leading into the Whistler stop, but ultimately, was not happy with his progress.
"I realized my sled wasn't running fast enough, so today, I decided to take a big risk," he said. "Obviously, it really didn't pay off. The starts need a lot of work, but I felt that the sliding today, in my second run especially, the times really didn't add up, so I'm a little confused. I'm very disappointed and I'll get back to the drawing board this Christmas, figure out some stuff, and come back stronger than ever in the second half."
Watts said while his second run start was improved, it still wasn't at the level he'd like to see.
"I thought they were getting better in the technical aspect, but in the power aspect, nope," he said.
Despite the challenges, Watts didn't go home empty-handed as he finished third in the America-Pacific Championships.
The only other Canadian, Colton Clarke, took 25th overall.
Russia also topped the podium in the women's race, with Tatyana Ivanova holding off Germany's Anna Berreiter by 0.191 seconds and fellow Russian Viktoriia Demchenko by 0.221 seconds.
In just her third-ever World Cup race, Berreiter was thrilled to have tamed the Whistler track, though she credited recent precipitation and some warm temperatures with helping to slow conditions and allow her to learn the world's fastest track quickly. She also won the Nation's Cup race to qualify for the World Cup.
"It's an incredible feeling standing on the podium. I love that feeling," she said. "I was feeling good at this track. The training was very good and yesterday, the Nation's Cup went very good.
"It's very fast and it's not so hard, so you can get it very fast. It's a lot of fun sliding here."
Carolyn Maxwell was the top Canadian, taking 12th place, 0.503 seconds back of Ivanova, while Makena Hodgson was 14th, Brooke Apshkrum took 16th and Pemberton's Trinity Ellis was 20th. Whistler resident Veronica Ravenna, representing Argentina, was 21st.
Full results are available online at www.fil-luge.com.