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Despair to Joy: Alex Gough wins bronze for Canada's first Olympic luge medal

Competing at her fourth Olympics, Gough finished with a combined four-run time of three minutes 5.64 seconds.

Candian luger Alex Gough, of Calgary, celebrates winning the bronze medal in women's luge at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Gough captured Canada's first-ever medal in women's luge. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Candian luger Alex Gough, of Calgary, celebrates winning the bronze medal in women's luge at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Gough captured Canada's first-ever medal in women's luge. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Canadian luger Alex Gough dropped her head when she saw the clock.

Wolfgang Staudinger, the program's colourful coach, felt sick.

Four years after Canada finished fourth in three separate luge events at the Sochi Olympics — including Gough in both the women's singles and as part of the team relay — it looked like there would be more heartbreak in South Korea.

And then less than two minutes later, utter joy.

Gough won Canada's first-ever Olympic luge medal Tuesday, grabbing bronze in the women's race at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in dramatic fashion.

The Calgary native was sitting third heading into her fourth and final run before slipping back one spot with two German sliders to go. But Tatjana Huefner, who had been in second, made a mistake immediately after Gough to push the Canadian back onto the podium.

"Elated. Just so over the moon," said Gough. "Especially to come from that gut-wrenching feeling of being behind and probably in a fourth spot again.

"To have that flip around on me and be suddenly in a medal spot is so amazing."

Germany's Natalie Geisenberger captured her second consecutive gold with a combined time of three minutes 5.232 seconds, while compatriot Dajana Eitberger took silver in 3:05.599. Gough clocked in at 3:05.644.

Like his slider, Staudinger was dejected after Gough crossed the finish line.

"This racing today was totally unpredictable," said the beaming German. "I was ready to go behind that wall and puke (and then) to jump for joy.

"I really felt so (crappy) because three times we were fourth in Sochi. Then I saw the time going down into the red with Huefner and I said, 'Holy (crap) it turns around.'

"The result says it all."

Calgary's Kimberley McRae, who equalled her fifth-place showing four years ago with a time of 3:05.912, tried to console Gough before Huefner's run.

"I was incredibly sad," said McRae. "As soon as she came off the track I said, 'There's two more sleds. Anything can happen. It's Pyeongchang.'

"And it happened. She made it on the podium."

The 30-year-old Gough, who is competing at her fourth Games and said she will likely retire after Thursday's relay, wasn't as confident.

"I was trying," she said. "I was definitely trying."

The unpredictable Olympic Sliding Centre on this wind-swept South Korean mountain has already provided two stunning results.

A tricky stretch cost German great Felix Loch a chance at a record-tying third straight men's gold medal when he skidded halfway through Sunday's final run and wound up a surprising fifth before Huefner's more subtle error opened the door for Gough. 

"If the men's race proved anything, it's not over 'til it's over," said Gough. "Just had to see how it played out."

There were also a couple of crashes, with Emily Sweeney suffering the worst of the bunch after losing control and sliding sideways down the icy chute in what was a scary scene. The American eventually got up and walked off under her own power.

Calgary's Brooke Apshkrum, meanwhile, was 13th in 3:07.565 at the 18-year-old's first Games.

Gough was just 0.433 seconds behind American Erin Hamlin for bronze in Sochi four years ago, while McRae was 0.75 seconds short of reaching the podium.

"I've kind of moved past Sochi," said Gough. "It happened. It's what it is. Fourth sucks, but it still was a Canadian best-ever.

"It was a still a really good performance for me."

Gough, men's singles luger Sam Edney, and doubles sliders Tristan Walker and Justin Snith were also a frustrating fourth in the team relay in Russia.

The quartet was bumped up to bronze for what would have been Canada's first luge medal in December after two Russian competitors were among 40 athletes from that country stripped of their 2014 results and handed lifetime bans by the International Olympic Committee for alleged doping violations.

But citing insufficient evidence, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that punishment for 28 of those athletes, including lugers Albert Demchenko and Tatiana Ivanova.

Now the Canadians have the monkey off their collective backs with Walker and Snith — the team's other fourth-place finish in Sochi — set for Wednesday's doubles race.

"Ten years of grinding, hard, tough work," said Staudinger, who took the coaching job in 2007. "A lot of ups and a lot of downs, and finally winning the first-ever Olympic medal for Canada.

"Unbelievable."

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