Youngsters represent country on luge

For the first time, New Zealand is being represented at the natural track luge world championships, being raced this week in Deutschnofen, northern Italy.

While most New Zealanders enjoy a warm summer holiday, Josh Fogo, of Naseby, and Jack Leslie, of Christchurch, (both 15) are spending four weeks training and competing in snow and ice in Italy and Austria.

Their trip was instigated by world champion luger Patrick Pigneter, of Italy, who spent a month coaching luge at Naseby last winter. While there he met the teenagers, both of whom have trained on the Naseby track for several years.

''So far, our training and racing has been about improving on the skills and knowledge that we already developed on the Naseby track. The tracks are twice as long as Naseby, much steeper and much faster, but we are starting to feel comfortable with what we are doing,'' Jack said in a statement.

The pair competed in their first World Cup race at Moos, in Passeier, northern Italy, over the second weekend of January.

New Zealand Olympic Luge Association president Geoff Balme said a total of 35 lugers raced that weekend, for the World Cup and the Nations Cup. The two New Zealanders raced in the Nations Cup race, with Jack Leslie missing out on qualifying for the World Cup race by just a single placing. Jack came in 32nd while Josh placed 34th.

Mr Balme said the boys would compete this weekend at the natural track luge world championship and again next weekend in another World Cup or Nations Cup race.

He said Mr Pigneter had chosen the teenagers for the ability they displayed at Naseby, though they were not necessarily the fastest guys on the track, which he said had proved to be a good decision.

''Our track [Naseby] is primarily natural luge but it's not too technical so bigger people tend to go faster, so Jack and Josh don't tend to place often ... Patrick, though, thought technically they were the best.''

Josh, a John McGlashan College pupil, said in a statement this week that although the language barrier was a bit of a problem, they were still making friends.

''We have been made very welcome and while we are among the youngest athletes competing, the other athletes and coaches have been very helpful. Not being able to speak German is a bit of a problem but we are making lots of friends regardless.''

- sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz