Feb. 1, 2018

Olympic luge remains a rush for Schulich sliding star

Alex Gough, Canada's best luger ever, heads into fourth Olympic Games

Given a choice between learning calculus and hurtling down an icy track at 140 kilometres per hour on a tiny sled, most people would happily unholster their calculators and head for the safety of the nearest desk.

Not Alex Gough.

Already a 15-year veteran of the luge track when she walked into an engineering class for the first time, Canada’s most winning luger admits that initial day at Schulich School of Engineering was a lot harder on the nerves than staring down a steep sled track.

“I would say my first engineering class was scarier than my first luge ride,” recalls Gough, a key figure among the maple-leaf representatives heading to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics in February. "I took my first ride on a luge sled when I was 13 and as an avid skier and already loving going fast, I was more excited than anything. My first engineering class, I’m walking into a room full of people I don’t know, having not done any real school learning for a few years.”

  • Photo above: Olympics-bound University of Calgary engineering student Alex Gough is already Canada's best luger ever, and she hopes to cap her Olympic career with more success in South Korea. Photo courtesy Alex Gough

Fourth trip to the Olympics for luger

For Gough, 30, the trip to South Korea marks Olympiad No. 4, the Calgarian having been named to Team Canada for Turin, Vancouver and Sochi.

Her achievements on the track, including a pair of World Cup silvers in December, are all the more impressive given the civil engineering student’s rigorous academic schedule. While many Olympic athletes focus strictly on higher, further, faster, Gough is also immersed in textbooks and her chosen undergraduate specialty, energy and environment.

Luge and linear algebra may seem strange bedfellows, but Gough says confidence in one pursuit has certainly helped her succeed in the other.

“Being an athlete has absolutely helped me, as a student and in life in general,” she explains. “It has helped me build the self-confidence and self-assurance needed to go after whatever goals or aspirations I have for myself. My athletic career has taught me the value of working hard towards a goal, and time management, and just how much you can get done in a very small amount of time.”

School a more natural fit than flying down track

Surprisingly, the Olympic athlete finds sitting at a desk and working in a lab is the more natural fit.

“School, smarts and being a nerd always came really naturally to me,” says Gough with a laugh. “I would say I had to work a lot harder to be an athlete and to find the self-confidence and self-belief that is required to be an athlete in an individual sport.”

Now halfway toward her degree, Gough may soon have more time to devote to her second career as an engineer, a profession partially inspired by her parents and younger brother, who are also civil engineers.

Pyeongchang likely Gough's Olympic finale

She suspects Pyeongchang will be her last Olympics, as a stellar career on the track starts to wind to a close — and for that reason, she’s determined to enjoy every minute.

“I’m excited for Korea. It will be my fourth and likely last Olympic Games, so while ultimately my goal is to win a medal, I am really just trying to do my best to enjoy all the moments this year as I race through this World Cup season leading into the Games,” she says. “My most basic reason for doing what I do is that I love just being on a sled going down a track.”

Schulich will be cheering their sliding star

Schulich School of Engineering Dean Bill Rosehart says Gough’s continued success, as both an Olympic athlete and a civil engineering student, represents the flexibility and balance the faculty encourages.

“At the Schulich School of Engineering, we support our students in every way we can, in both school and life. Alex is an outstanding example of someone who is working incredibly hard to be a champion in both,” says Rosehart. “We couldn’t be more proud of Alex as she heads to South Korea to take part in her fourth Olympic Games, and we’ll be cheering her on every step of the way.”