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Mortensen begins new chapter
July 28, 2018

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LAKE PLACID - Matt Mortensen is the kind of guy who likes to go fast, but it was still a bit of a surprise when he announced - after logging his best World Cup season to date and another trip to the Olympics - that he was retiring earlier than anticipated this summer.

The 32-year-old doubles luger, along with teammate Jayson Terdiman, just missed the medal podium at Mortensen's second Olympics this past winter in South Korea. But while Mortensen and Terdiman were competing at the top of their game, Mortensen took into account his health, his age and his career when making the decision to hang up the sled.

"I'm building for a future outside the sport, so Lake Placid isn't where I see myself moving for the future," he said from his new home in Connecticut. "My girlfriend works in New York City, so this was a good kind of middle ground to be on."

While working on landing a job related to his degree in business communications, Mortensen is also still in the Army National Guard until early next year. He's been taking part in the Army's World Class Athlete Program, which allowed him to compete in luge while still fulfilling his National Guard duties.

"My military contract doesn't end until February," he said. "I have about another two months left in the World Class Athlete Program. I could maintain my military responsibilities while still actively competing. Now that I'm a retired athlete, they'll use me to go and speak at schools or go and speak wherever they need me to go.

"More or less, it shows the diversity of the military, what they allow soldiers to do. So for me, I would speak about the mental side of the sport and how important mental toughness is."

Mortensen began luge when he was 11 years old, after attending a Slider Search on Long Island, something that U.S. Luge still does around the country. It allows kids to try the sport and coaches to identify young athletes who may have potential. Mortensen told Team USA in an interview recently that he liked things that are "fast and fun," and luge met both of those criteria.

"I've always been a competitive person, so when I first encountered the sport of luge I really liked it right off the bat," he said. "I was the kid that was already lying down on a skateboard going down the hill or riding my bike with my hands in the air.

"When I got on this and found out I could travel with it, I just fell in love with the sport."

He said a back injury at the Pyeonchang Games in South Korea hastened his retirement, even though - five months removed from the Olympics - he's feeling better.

"It feels OK now, but the problem isn't how it feels now, it's how it felt when I injured it at the games," he said. "If I was to injure it again, that could be game over - like a slipped disc. And I just can't take that chance.

"I was kind of nursing a small injury and my back was tight. I had done a lot of traveling," including flights and drives between Europe and Asia, Japan and South Korea, before the injury occured.

Mortensen and Terdiman teamed up after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where each competed with a different partner. In their four years together, Terdiman and Mortensen notched three national championships and numerous World Cup medals, including a silver in Lake Placid in 2016. And while Terdiman, 29, begins the search for a new partner, Mortensen said he had planned on competing for another two years.

"I had originally told Jayson that we'd try and fly for another two years after the games [and] get some more world championships under our belt," Mortensen said. "But after my experience at the Olympics - we just missed out on a medal - combined with my back, that was a really big deciding factor.

"Jayson's going to try and slide, looking at other options. But he definitely was not ready to retire at all."

Mortensen said the pair's success made him think twice about retirement.

"Our success definitely made my decision much harder," he said. "If we weren't successful, it wouldn't have been hard at all.

"The thing is, I'm 32 years old and have to start looking for a job in the real world. And if you don't get out there and get your experience, all of a sudden another four years has passed and then I'm 36 and kind of past the point of hireability.

"So when I looked at the bigger picture, everything kind of became a bit more clear."

Mortensen's girlfriend is from Europe, and he said they just returned from the continent recently. But he added that traveling away from home for three or four months at a time was a drain on him.

When it comes to what he's going to miss most, well, he's just like his 11-year-old self again.

"I'm going to miss the high level of competition, I'm going to miss all of my friends," he said. "I'm going to miss being on the ice and having fun."

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