Canada's silver-medal lugers find sweet redemption after 4 long years
Tristan Walker tucked his grandfather's Royal Canadian Air Force patch in the left arm of his speed suit. Justin Snith slipped a toonie in his right boot.
Call it superstition or a silent prayer for luck. Call it a plea for an extra push from above for a team that felt cursed heading into the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Finding their own wings, Walker and Snith boarded their sled for the anchor leg and rocketed down the icy chute at the Olympic Sliding Centre. They roared over the finish line in a combined time of two minutes 24.872 seconds — good for first place with two sleds to go.
"There's a break between punching the clock at the end there and knowing where you finish," said Snith, who dissolved in tears at the bottom of a hockey-style mob of red tuques and spandex. "As soon as I saw my teammates celebrating, it was just like the biggest weight off my shoulders, especially after a long four years."
The mighty Germans claimed gold, as expected, in 2:24.517. The Austrians slipped to bronze, which was unexpected, in 2:24.988.
The Canadian contingent of Walker, Snith, Sam Edney and Alex Gough seized silver on what will go down as a day of redemption.
Sweet, sweet redemption.
"It's the moment that we were all dreaming of and wanting forever," Edney told reporters beyond the finish line.
Four years ago, Gough, Edney, Walker and Snith missed out on bronze by a devastating 10th of a second. Disoriented and, in some instances, depressed, they returned home to Canada wondering if a once-in-a-lifetime moment had passed them by.
Gough threw herself into her engineering studies at the University of Calgary. Edney took a year off to earn his commerce degree at Royal Roads University.
All the while, Walker and Snith kept sliding, kept chasing.
"We've been working this past quad with the heartbreak of Sochi," Walker said. "And to finally capitalize — not only bronze but silver — is amazing."
Remember, this is the same Canadian team that received word in December of a sudden bump to bronze from fourth place at the Sochi Games. The upgrade came after the International Olympic Committee retroactively suspended Russian silver medallists Albert Demchenko and Tatiana Ivanova for doping.
But then came more heartbreak on Feb. 1 when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favour of an appeal by the Russian athletes, thus dropping Canada back into fourth place.
"After being ripped off by dopers and losing medals in previous games, this is the team I am happiest for," retired Canadian hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser wrote on Twitter. "Way to go guys!"
Over the last four years, the Canadian luge team tried to be as politically correct as possible when discussing what happened in Sochi. They repeatedly talked about controlling what they could control and not worrying about the rest.
Upon learning of the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling, however, Edney let loose on Twitter: "This is a very very very dark day for Clean Sport ... if there is such a thing anymore."
Finally an Olympic medallist, Edney refused Thursday to let the past ruin his brightest moment on the track.
"I'm overwhelmed right now with joy," Edney said, announcing his retirement from competition on the spot. "And I can't wait to celebrate with my teammates and my family and all of Canada. It's going to be a great day."
Before this week, Canada had never won a medal in luge, which was added to the Olympics in 1964. Calgary's Gough snapped the shutout Tuesday with bronze in the women's race. She put down a blazing opening run in Thursday's relay that put Canada 0.167 seconds ahead of the pace set by American Summer Britcher.
"I wanted it so bad for them," Gough said of her teammates. "I put together the best run I could. They followed it up, and we got the redemption from four years ago."
Mulling over that redemption, Walker gingerly pulled his Grandfather's RCAF badge out of the left arm of his speed suit. Snith cradled the toonie that he might one day pass down to grandchildren of his own.
"We were so close in Sochi," Snith said, trying and failing to fight back a steady supply of tears. "You spend four years that close, what could have been, not having that moment.
"To finally have that moment is priceless."