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Canadian team finishes fourth in luge relay event at Sochi Olympics

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - A stone-faced Samuel Edney slumped over a railing by the finish area at the Sanki Sliding Center and watched as three luge teams celebrated their Olympic success just steps away.

His relay teammates — Alex Gough, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith — had all experienced the pain of fourth-place finishes earlier in the week. Now it was Edney's turn to be crushed too.

The four Canadians missed out on the podium by the blink of an eye at the Sochi Games on Thursday, finishing just one-tenth of a second behind Latvia. Germany took the gold and Russia won silver.

"I don't think there are words for how much it sucks," Gough said.

The Canadians entered the competition as podium contenders after winning relay silver at the 2013 world championships and bronze the year before that. Gough started first, followed by Edney and the duo of Walker and Snith in the Olympic debut for the format.

The three sleds were steady but not spectacular on a mild evening under the lights. The powerhouse German side won by over a full second and the Russians were over a half-second clear of the Latvians.

Edney had finished 11th in the men's singles last weekend while Gough, also from Calgary, took fourth in the women's race Tuesday. Walker, from Cochrane, Alta., and Calgary's Snith settled for fourth in the men's doubles on Wednesday.

All four sliders were disappointed after those early events but knew they'd have another shot in the relay. That's why this latest blow may have hurt the worst of all.

"I'm crushed," Walker said. "Words can't even describe it. There was no one thing to pinpoint. We all could have found three-hundredths (of a second in each run). It just hurts."

Canadian sleds have reached the podium at World Cups and world championships before, but the Olympic breakthrough will have to wait at least four more years.

High performance director Walter Corey said he's proud of how far the athletes and the program have come in recent years. But he added it was still devastating for all involved to come so close.

"No one wants the iron medal or the wooden medal leaving the Olympic Games," Corey said.

There were no obvious flaws in the Canadians' runs, just some tiny things that prevented them from delivering the performances they wanted. A small twitch here, a slight brush of the wall there.

"I think we all feel like we let each other down," Gough said. "It's tough to sort of take it in and find words to describe how we're feeling right now."

The three fourth-place finishes were all Canadian bests at the Olympics. However, it was very difficult to look at the positives, especially with fans and athletes celebrating all around them.

"The whole team is gutted," Corey said. "This is brutal to take but we can't lose sight of what we have accomplished and where we have come from as a team. That was heart attack racing ... it was so close.

"We are all gutted but we have to try and hold our heads high."

The addition of the relay added an exciting new element to the luge competition, which has been on the Olympic program since 1964.

The first slider must navigate the 17-turn course, then touch an overhanging pad in the finish area that triggers a signal for the next teammate to go at the top of the course.

Germany set a track record with its time of two minutes 45.649 seconds. Russia was next in 2:46.679, Latvia was third in 2:47.295 and Canada took fourth in 2:47.395.

When you add the time difference between fourth and third from Canada's three near-misses, it was just over half a second.

"I feel our group is gutted, absolutely. You don't do all the blood, sweat and tears and come here and say well we're happy with fourth places when that's not the dream," Corey said.

There were several viewing areas along the track but the hotspot was the finish area, where about 200 cowbell-ringing, flag-waving fans were packed in beside the riders. A couple dozen Canadian fans were in the middle of the section.

The Sanki track is two kilometres long and includes three uphill sections designed to slow down the athletes. Competitors still reached top speeds of about 135 kilometres per hour.

Canada had the second-last start time in the 12-team competition. It was 8 C at race time with a slight breeze.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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