The Olympic Winter Games are well underway and we are breaking the no television during the school week rule under the guise of educational purposes. I do not personally know anyone participating in the winter games, past or present. I can certainly claim six degrees of separation as can anyone else living in the Tri-Lakes area of the Adirondack Park. Those athletes, like all Olympians, are consumed with their sport. Every walking hour is spent traveling, training, and pursuing perfection.
I have tried to educate my son on how lucky he is to live near a town that hosted the 1932 and 1980 games. He shrugs his shoulders and asks when he can skate on the Olympic Oval or nonchalantly tells our extended family he (yawn) tried a ski jumping clinic at the Whiteface Olympic Jumping Complex. It is hard to describe to a child the privilege of being in an area where athletes are constantly training so that they can represent their country in a quest for the gold. For mine it is an everyday occurrence.
USA Luge Marketing Director Gordy Sheer is no stranger to the Olympics. He and luge partner Chris Thorpe won a silver medal in the Nagano Olympics in 1998. This was the first medal ever won by a US luge competitor.
Sheer says, “We try to host Luge Challenges throughout the season. It’s essentially luge on ski hills. We use a recreational sled that isn’t fiberglass and steel. It doesn’t weigh as much as the regular sled. Basically it is an opportunity to experience the sport in a family-friendly environment. We also keep our eyes open for any kids that show potential.”
According to Sheer another opportunity to achieve this particular Olympic experience is through the Slider Search. These events are conducted on city streets in the summer months with sleds on wheels. The USA Luge Official web site has an up-to-date schedule of events.
The USA Luge team, headquartered in Lake Placid, gives free tours of their facility every weekday at 2:00 p.m. This week the Olympic luge team and most of the staff are in Vancouver supporting their athletes so tours will resume the week of the 22nd.
Considering it is the official headquarters for the US Luge, it is an unassuming structure, more warehouse than office building. It’s a casual tour where athletes may be fine-tuning their sleds or watching videos of individual practice starts.
The tour starts with a 20-minute introduction video that can jump-start anyone’s luge education. The movie is just as fast and furious as the sport. The indoor facility, the only one in the US and one of seven in the world, is quite impressive. Athletes use three refrigerated ramps to improve their start techniques with the latest technology, shaving milliseconds off their time. There is even an opportunity to try out a practice sled (not to slide on) and find out how to steer using your legs to squeeze on the curved part of the runners (kufen), to direct the pod, the custom-formed fiberglass shell.
For those that have tried luge and want to continue sliding the Adirondack Luge Club may be the place for you. The club season starts in January and continues through March. Membership and track fees do apply. Practices take place on the Olympic Sports Complex Slide Track, one of only two refrigerated full-length tracks in the United States. The other one is located in Park City, Utah.
The Luge Rocket Ride is only available Christmas Day for anyone wishing for an opportunity to slide on the official training track without having to join the club. The sled is slightly different than the competitors’ sleds. It contains a shield that covers three-quarters of the slider’s body. Yes, it looks like a small space ship for the 1/4-mile ride. All participants must be 13 years or older.
We will watch the luge team from the comfort of our home. The women’s singles medal round is today, February 16 at 4:00 p.m. EST. The men’s doubles medal round is February 17 at 8:00 p.m. EST. After all, we can build a luge track outside the house. Why not? Last year we had a bobsled run.