For USA Luge, the holiday break comes at a perfect time. Some sliders are aching. Others are exhausted.
And everyone now knows their Olympic fate.
The 10-person team that will be representing the U.S. at the Sochi Games was finalized Saturday, with Tucker West becoming the youngest male to qualify for an American Olympic luge squad and Aidan Kelly securing the lone other remaining spot on the men’s singles roster.
West and Kelly join Chris Mazdzer on the men’s singles team. The other teams were set before Saturday, with Erin Hamlin, Kate Hansen and Summer Britcher on the women’s roster, Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman on one doubles team and Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall on the other doubles sled.
“I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics for as long as I can remember,” Britcher said. “And so, for that to finally happen, it’s going to be amazing.”
The 18-year-old West is a three-time USA Luge start champion, and the track at Sochi is considered one where a strong start is particularly vital.
The team was completed after the World Cup competition that ended Saturday in Park City, Utah, one where Mazdzer won two silver medals — one in singles for the second straight week, and the other when he teamed with Hansen, Mortensen and Griffall for the team relay, a new Olympic discipline that will likely give the U.S. its top hope of making a trip to the medal podium in Sochi.
Mazdzer is returning to his Saranac Lake, N.Y. home in the next few days to have his ailing right shoulder examined, but he does not anticipate any major issues and is scheduled to train at USA Luge’s base in Lake Placid during his midseason layoff. The World Cup tour is dark until an early January resumption in Konigssee, Germany, so Mazdzer has plenty of time to get some needed rest and possibly rehabilitation.
“I’ve had right shoulder issues since the second World Cup, so I’m going to have an MRI in Lake Placid to see what’s going on,” Mazdzer said. “When it happened I was talking with one of the German guys, David Moeller, and he was like, ‘When you’re really focused you don’t feel anything.’ And it’s true. It might bother me but it hasn’t slowed me down.”
Hamlin is planning to return home as well for some family time. Hansen, who narrowly missed the Olympics in 2010, plans to be in Utah for the first week or so of the midseason break before eventually getting to her home in La Canada, Calif.
“I think it’s just as important as the physical break, if not more,” Hansen said of getting some time to mentally rest, now that the Olympic selection grind is complete. “If you’re not mentally there it’s hard to show up and slide. Physically, pain is temporary. We can all get through it. But mentally, this will be awesome.”
Only Hamlin, Mazdzer and Niccum were part of the team that represented the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Still, even for the veterans, to be told again that they are Olympic-bound is remains thrilling.
“It’s still super exciting,” Hamlin said. “I almost want to say each time it’s gotten a little bit more exciting. It’s definitely not lost any of its lustre, that’s for sure. The buildup of every four years and the time and work and effort that goes into it kind of makes you feel like a newbie all over again. You put in so much energy and heart, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it, you’ve put in just as much work as the first time and you want it just as bad.”
The U.S. Olympic rosters in the other sliding disciplines, bobsled and skeleton, are not likely to be known until mid-January.