Luge is a Swiss term for small coasting sled. If you watch a luge event on television, you’ll see that these athletes are moving faster than a coasting pace.
Riders lay on their back with their feet pointing toward an icy downhill slope. They use their calves to steer the sled in and out of winding turns.
The top speed ever recorded on a trip down the ice in a luge sled: 96 mph.
It’s harder to create speed on a short track so you have to get off to a fast start. The Austrian course is about three quarters of a mile long.
This weekend’s World Luge Championships in Igls, Austria come at a time where prospective Olympians are tuning up for the 2018 winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Tucker West, a Ridgefield native, will compete in the Men’s Singles event.
“I’ve had a lot of races in Igls," said West. "I’ve always kind of held Igls near and dear to me because of that youth Olympic race.”
West was a member of the U.S. Luge Mixed Team Relay that won gold in the 2012 Youth Olympic Games. His interest in the sport as a youth was piqued much like many others who fell in love with winter sports: he watched Luge on TV during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
His father, Brett, even built a track for his son in their Ridgefield backyard.
While West hasn't rode the track since he was a kid, the family did invite youngsters to go down it a few years back.
“Ridgefield, Connecticut is the best cheering squad you can ever ask for," West said. "We let the little kids ride on the track just to show them where I started and how I fell in love with the sport.”
West has not been able to try out the 2018 Pyeongchang course and admitted that it’s hard to match tracks. The U.S. team did send Tucker’s teammate, Chris Mazdzer, a seven-time national champion, to sample the track.
“He has said that it is a relatively easy flowing track, which is similar to Igls,” West said.
West finished 22nd four years ago at Sochi's Men's Luge Singles event.
Emily Sweeney, another luger from Connecticut, has yet to qualify for a U.S. Olympic team. Like West, she finished sixth at the FIL World Luge Championships last year. Despite a lack of Olympic success, her adopted hometown of Suffield has been behind her the whole way.
“I’m so spoiled with support and that really helps especially in the hard times," said Sweeney. "I know they are there in the great times, but they are also there in the difficult times for me.”
Sweeney has some momentum heading into Igls. She won two silver medals in Park City, Utah this past December. The two second-place finishes in World Cup Women's Singles events were poignant for the 23-year-old native of Maine. She underwent wrist surgery last summer. Sweeney believes that her recent recovery may lead to an Olympic bid.
“I think this year actually having an injury has forced me to think in different ways and look at the Olympics in a different way," said Sweeney. "I really like Igls. It’s one of the tracks in Europe that I am comfortable on.”