It lacks clearly defined parameters, but you know it when you see it.
Though that description was made famous by a completely unrelated topic, it also applies quite aptly to what makes someone a good candidate to become a successful Olympic luger.
At least that was your humble correspondent’s impression after speaking with Gordy Sheer of USA Luge about what his team looks for in potential Olympians during the White Castle USA Luge Slider Search events it holds across the country. (White Castle; luge; slider search. Get it?)
Sheer, who took home the silver in Luge Doubles at the Winter Olympics in Japan in 1998 and currently serves as USA Luge’s marketing director, said it’s very apparent if a young athlete (ages 9-13) at one of the recruitment events has “it” or not.
“Even you’d be able to tell,” he told me. “Obviously, we need kids who are strong and powerful, but it’s also pretty easy to see when a kid has control over the sled,” Sheer added. “Some kids just have a knack for driving and controlling something moving at speed.”
That exchange left your humble correspondent wondering if he had “it.” Only one way to find out.
While testing out the off-sled gear that Duluth Trading Company provides for USA Luge athletes and staff in Lake Placid, I traveled with Sheer and other members of the Olympic luge program to their outdoor training facility to get some first-hand experience sledding like an Olympian. After touring the facility and observing Olympic-caliber as well as junior athletes sledding the track, I got a quick lesson from Sheer about how best to survive my first run.
He also offered some words about the mindset lugers need to maintain to achieve success.
“The best way to describe it is hyper-focused,” he told me. “If you ever go into the start house at a Luge race, you’ll see athletes pre-visualizing their runs. You’ll see athletes actually mimicking the movements they make as they go down the track. After your start, you have to get into a very relaxed, focused state. Almost zen-like. You need to be able to zero in on what is important to have a successful run and block out what isn’t.”
Trying to bear all that in mind, I set out to find out if I had “it” during a half-mile run down the track. By the time I finished, I no longer cared and was happy to finish in one piece. It ain't easy.
(For another look at how close a wipe-out was, here's an alternate view of my 48-second run. )
Nota bene: Interested in jumping on the sled yourself? The Lake Placid facility offers lessons to first-timers through their USA Luge Fantasy Camp. If you do take the plunge, you'll want a pair of these from Duluth.