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WADA decision leaves Canadian luge team short-handed for hometown World Cup

Brooke Apshkrum returned to luge excited about the prospect of "track blazing" a whole new discipline. Days before racing her first women's doubles World Cup race in Whistler, B.C.
Canada's Brooke Apshkrum, of Calgary, Alta., races down the track during a World Cup women's luge event in Whistler, B.C., on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Apshkrum returned to luge excited about the prospect of “track blazing” a whole new discipline. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Brooke Apshkrum returned to luge excited about the prospect of "track blazing" a whole new discipline. 

Days before racing her first women's doubles World Cup race in Whistler, B.C., though, the 23-year-old Calgarian learned her season was already over due to a decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

The decision leaves a hole in Team Canada's roster as the World Cup returns to Canada on Friday for its second stop of the season. It will mark the first time since 2019 that the luge World Cup is held in North America.

After a two-year absence from the sport, Apshkrum began training with Luge Canada again in July. Women's doubles had recently been added as an event for the 2026 Olympics in Milano-Cortina, and she found the prospect of racing with someone else intriguing. 

"It seemed like just a crazy enough idea to get me back onto the sled and to do some luge again," said Apshkrum, who finished 13th in women's singles at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. 

"I think that's exactly why we do it, is because it's that much more of a challenge. And (doubles) just sounds even crazier."

This season marks the first time women's doubles is being included on the World Cup circuit and Apshkrum found a partner in Kailey Allan, a 19-year-old athlete from Calgary who's seen success in women's singles on the junior circuit. 

Allan came to doubles wanting to embrace a new challenge.

"Getting in at the origin of women's doubles, it's really neat to have everything that the men have. They have singles and doubles. Now we have that, too," she said. 

The men's and women's singles races differ, with the women starting at a lower height on the track. Apshkrum wants to see the those differences erased, but knows the inclusion of women's doubles is a step forward. 

"I really feel like luge is a wonderful sport. But it definitely, I think like most sports, is playing catch up with the rest of the world, for what women can do," she said. "We are just as capable as the men." 

Apshkrum and Allan were training in Whistler when they learned Apshkrum won't be allowed to compete this season. 

When she returned to the sport, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport advised Apshkrum and Luge Canada that could not compete until she spent six months testing negative for banned substances. 

She applied for an exemption, arguing that she was in good standing when she stepped away from the sport in 2019, that she is competing in a new discipline and that not being able to compete this season will hurt her preparation for the 2026 Games.

The World Anti-Doping Agency declined the request.

"The athlete will have ample time to compete in (international luge) competitions after the expiry of the requisite period," the agency said in its written decision. "A vague assertion of a potential prejudice to the athlete's funding and experience, without any supporting evidence, cannot be enough to grant an exemption."

The decision is a blow to a Canadian team that was set to have two women's doubles sleds race in Whistler on Saturday. Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless, both of Whistler, will now be the lone Canadians in the doubles field.

Allan has switched to competing in Friday's women's singles event, alongside Calgary's Carolyn Maxwell and Trinity Ellis of Pemberton, B.C. 

Ellis was part of the mixed relay team that finished sixth at the Beijing Olympics in February. She also finished 14th in women's singles.

"It is so amazing to have the World Cup back in Whistler this year. It has felt like ages since we last raced here in 2019," Ellis said in a release. 

"It is so special to race at home and I'm so excited to finally have my family and friends be able to watch a race. Due to the pandemic, none of my family or friends have been able to watch a World Cup in person since the last race in Whistler in 2019."

The men's field will feature Devin Wardrope and Cole Zajanski, both of Calgary. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version contained incorrect information about start heights for men's and women's doubles races.