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USA Luge gears up for Olympics, despite political tensions
August 3, 2017

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LAKE PLACID - Three months before USA Luge athletes compete in their first World Cup of the season in Austria, they are busy gearing up for another Olympic season.

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are only six months away.

And despite the saber-rattling going on between the U.S. and North Korea - with both nations testing intercontinental ballistic missiles this summer and the U.S. Air Force flying two B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula Sunday, July 30 - USA Luge officials and athletes have only one thing on their minds: the Olympics.

Are they worried about North Korea?

"At this point, no because there's nothing that we can do about it," USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said Wednesday, Aug. 2. "We can just prepare our athletes, prepare ourselves. We're not going to sit on our heels waiting for what could or could not happen. We've got to prepare, get our athletes focused. It's an Olympic year, so everything that we did last season with a lot of testing, a lot of tweaking on the equipment, it's time for us to start putting all of those things into play now and just prepare ourselves for Pyeongchang no matter what happens."

Work on the Olympic season began as soon as the previous season ended. In March and April, they concentrated on the technical aspects of the sleds. They've also been getting tickets, housing and flights for the Olympics for the staff, athletes and families. There has been plenty to do at the USA Luge headquarters here on Church Street and the U.S. Olympic Training Center on Old Military Road.

"Our athletes have been pretty much working out here in Lake Placid most of the summer," Leahy said. "They're getting ready to hit the ice in Lillehammer in late September."

At the end of the first five World Cup races, using race results, USA Luge will nominate its Olympic team to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which approves the final roster. Those nominations will be announced on Dec. 16, the second and final day of the World Cup in Lake Placid. The team will have three men, three women and two doubles teams.

Members of the 2016-2017 team included Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and Taylor Morris for the men; Erin Hamlin, Emily Sweeney, Summer Britcher and Raychel Germaine for the women; and Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza, and Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk for the doubles.

"It's a casual atmosphere this summer," Leahy said. "There's a lot of weight training, a lot of starts here at the facility. We've been on flat ice as well. I think for the athletes, this is an excellent time for camaraderie, chemistry. They push each other. They have Pyeongchang on their mind, but at this point, it's getting themselves physically prepared for a fairly grueling first half of the season."

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Crowdsourcing campaign

USA Luge recently launched a crowdsourcing campaign at Generosity by Indiegogo to raise $20,000, which will help fund the team's medal quest at the upcoming Olympics. The organization typically holds a crowdsourcing campaign in the summer, even though many people don't have winter on their minds at the time.

"It's running a little slow right now," Leahy said. "Although we and the athletes are really focused, we're still in the throes of summer and most people aren't thinking about ice until November shows up around here."

The U.S. is the only country in the world that doesn't provide direct funding to its Olympic teams and athletes; therefore, teams are left with raising the money themselves, through a variety of fundraising activities, including sponsorships and benefit events.

Any money USA Luge raises above the $20,000 will still help, as the team needs funding for sled technology, coaching, training, etc.

The crowdsourcing campaign is located online at www.generosity.com/sports-fundraising/2018-olympic-team-fund-drive.

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New sled consultant

On July 17, USA Luge announced that it has hired former German luge Olympian Andre Florschuetz as a technology consultant for the next three World Cup seasons to help with doubles teams. Florschuetz teamed with Torsten Wustlich for a 2006 Olympic silver medal in doubles and three World Championship gold medals over an 18-year career that ended in 2010.

During the 2016-2017 season, the USA Luge doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman rode a Florschuetz-built sled to finish third in the World Cup rankings.

"From his years in the sport, Andre brings a lot of technical experience to our program," USA Luge Sports Program Director Mark Grimmette said in a press release. "In a sport timed to the thousandth of a second, every detail makes a difference. Andre's eye and knowledge will add to our already outstanding technical programs."

Jon Owen, USA Luge's head of technical programs, is coordinating the long-term sled evolution in collaboration with Norton/Saint-Gobain, Dow and other partners.

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Olympic helmet

With the help of a voting campaign, USA Luge recently chose the All-American Racer helmet for its 2018 Olympic races, beating out a design called Stars, Stripes and Liberty.

Both helmets were designed by Jon Wooten, of Newport News, Virginia, and this is the fourth Winter Games in which he has created the look of the team's Olympic helmet.

In late spring and early summer, fans voted on the new helmet design, with polls ending July 4. The All-American Racer got 57 percent of the vote.

The helmet will be officially unveiled and presented to USA Luge's 2018 Olympic team at the Lake Placid Conference Center on Dec. 16, the final day of the World Cup races at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

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2017-2018 schedule

USA Luge athletes will be training in Lake Placid until late September, when they travel to Lillehammer, Norway, to begin their first ice training of the 2017-2018 season. Seeding races will be held in Whistler, British Columbia, and Calgary, Alberta, in early October before the team returns to Lake Placid for its annual Norton National Championships Oct. 21-29.

The USA Luge fall World Cup team will be announced during the national championships. Athletes must be on the roster during November and December in order to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang training week will be held Nov. 2-11.

There will be nine World Cup races leading up to the Winter Olympics in February, according to the International Luge Federation schedule. The first three will be held in Europe: Igls, Austria (Nov. 18-19); Winterberg, Germany (Nov. 25-26); and Altenberg, Germany (Dec. 2-3). Then it's time for a two-stop North American tour: Calgary (Dec. 8-9); and Lake Placid (Dec. 15-16). There will not be a World Cup in Salt Lake City, Utah, as there has been in recent years.

The team will spend Dec. 18-20 training in Lake Placid before the holiday break and will leave for the final races of the season on Dec. 28.

World Cup racing returns to Europe in January: Konigssee, Germany (Jan. 6-7); Oberhof, Germany (Jan. 13-14); Lillehammer (Jan. 20-21); and Sigulda, Latvia (Jan. 27-28).

The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea will be held Feb. 9-25.

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