Profile Frustration fuels Alex Gough's pursuit of Canada's 1st individual luge medal

4-time Olympian wants to fill void of missing podium in Sochi

Frustration fuels Alex Gough's pursuit of Canada's 1st individual luge medal
Alex Gough wants to win Canada's first individual Olympic luge medal in Pyeongchang. © Kevin Light/CBC Sports

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

In a sport where a 10th of a second can be the difference between glory or devastation, luge athletes spend the time between Olympics obsessing over what is essentially a blink of an eye.

Sometimes athletes land on the right side of the clock. But then there are results that leave them wondering what might have been.

That's the harsh reality Alex Gough has been living the past four years. She begins her Olympic Games on Monday (5:50 a.m. ET) with the first two runs of four in women's singles.

The sting of fourth place — not once but twice — at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is as raw today as it was when Gough stood watching others receive their medals. She finished just off the podium in her individual race, and was fourth again in the relay, a 10th of a second behind the Russians. 

However, in December that fourth-place relay finish in Sochi was upgraded to bronze as a result of the Russians being stripped of their medals for doping infractions. It's not official yet and while it will eventually be the first Olympic medal for the program, that moment of standing on the podium — at the pinnacle of sport — was taken away from Gough and her teammates.

"That's where it stings," she said. "We're all back for this and it would be incredible if we could get redemption."

Click below to watch Alex Gough on missing the podium in Sochi

That disappointment has become a driver for Gough as she prepares to make her fourth Olympic appearance.

The Calgary-native has spent 13 years with the national squad. She's one of the veterans on the eight-person team hoping to capture a second Olympic medal — one Gough feels she was supposed to get four years ago in Sochi.

"In my singles race I left some time out there, how much, I don't know but I know I did," Gough said recently.

Olympic baby

Gough was born in Calgary in 1987, and her parents took her to the Games there the next year. In a lot of ways she was always supposed to be at the Olympics.

"I wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't a legacy from '88," Gough said. "I would never have had that exposure if [the Olympics hadn't been in Calgary."]

Gough's mom signed her up for luge camp and ski jumping when she was 13. She took to luge in a hurry.

At 18, Gough made the team for the 2006 Olympics in Turin, a 20th-place finish providing a needed learning experience. 

"I was wide-eyed," she said. "I was at the Olympics and not really appreciating the value until afterwards."

Four years later she was in Vancouver, finishing 18th.

It was the next four years, leading to Sochi, that Gough made strides, challenging in almost every World Cup race she competed in, and in 2011, becoming the first non-German athlete to win gold in a World Cup race in 10 years.

All signs pointed to a podium finish in 2014 but instead, fourth place, twice.

Leaving a luge legacy

After Sochi Gough went back to school and became a full-time student athlete. She's now midway through a civil engineering degree, for now on hold as she chases her Olympic drea.

"I really want to finish that up," she said. "I'm going to have do some real thinking after the Games about what's next. But now the focus is on the present. There's lots of time to think about whether I'll continue after this."

And while she makes that consideration there's a level of reflection on the past 13 years that Gough, 30, wouldn't otherwise have had in previous Olympics. It's been a long and winding journey, not without obstacles and challenges.

Now it's about getting that first individual Olympic luge medal for the program and showing those who follow, what can be accomplished.

"It would mean all these years paying off," Gough said. "To foster that through the next generation; they're up next. I think that inspires them, [knowing] they can do it too."