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Luge + lacrosse = Winter Olympic hopefuls

USA Luge to present Running of the Balls fundraiser later this month to benefit athlete programs

Spectators watch lacrosse balls at Curve 19 at Mount Van Hoevenberg during the first Running of the Balls fundraiser for USA Luge in March 2016. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Thousands will be competing on the combined luge, bobsled and skeleton track at Mount Van Hoevenberg later this month — all at the same time, in about 2 minutes.

Lacrosse balls, that is, not lugers.

It’s time once again for the Running of the Balls at the Olympic Sports Complex, an annual fundraiser for USA Luge. It is the sixth time this event has been held since March 2016, and the Duluth Trading Company is this year’s title sponsor.

“The race is basically taking a ton of lacrosse balls and putting them at the top of the luge track with a gate. The gate opens, and the lacrosse balls are released,” said Gordy Sheer, USA Luge director of marketing and sponsorships and 1998 Olympic silver medalist in doubles luge.

Each ball — more than 1,000 of them — is numbered. People sponsor yellow of white balls, $10 each or three for $25, and the first 10 balls to cross the line, plus the last-place ball, all win cash and prizes. The lacrosse balls were donated by Summit Lacrosse Ventures. The balls are captured at Curve 19 because they don’t make it all the way to the official finish line.

USA Luge Marketing Director Gordy Sheer, left, and Director of Sports Programs Mark Grimmette get ready to release 960 lacrosse balls at the Lake Placid sliding track for the first Running of the Balls in March 2016. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“It’s a lot of fun watching these lacrosse balls bouncing down a mile of frozen track,” Sheer said.

Then there’s the “race within the race” with blue-colored balls, each costing $30 to sponsor. The sponsor of the fastest blue ball will win a Duluth Karl’s Lunch Box, Duluth Growler and a trip for two to the December 2021 Lake Placid World Cup, courtesy of Bucket List Events. It includes three nights lodging at a Lake Placid hotel with daily breakfast and dinner, two complimentary, domestic airline tickets and a car rental. Winners will also receive VIP access to the races at Mount Van Hoevenberg which will help determine the 2022 USA Luge Olympic Team that will compete in Beijing.

In past years, people could watch the Running of the Balls after the World Cup action or live online, but this year, the coronavirus presents event organizers with an extra-special challenge — staffing.

“This year we won’t have a camera crew, so we’re recruiting our athletes to help us become the camera crew,” Sheer said. “We’re going to have athletes stationed with their mobile devices shooting all of our Running of the Balls, and then we’ll edit it together, and it will be aired on the 20th of February.”

All winners of both races will be announced during the webcast, which starts at noon Saturday, Feb. 20 on the USA Luge website, www.usaluge.org.

The actual race will happen a couple of days before the webcast to give editors time to create the video presentation.

The goal is to raise $30,000, and proceeds will go toward development of luge athletes, with the top-level team going to the Olympic Winter Games. The next Olympics are scheduled for February 2022 in Beijing, China.

“USA Luge does four things,” Sheer said. “We recruit, we develop, we train and support athletes.”

Unlike other sports, USA Luge has to find athletes “from day one and turn them into, hopefully, Olympic medalists. There’s no Little League. There’s no college system. There’s nothing like that.”

It takes a lot of money to find the athletes with slider searches throughout the country, develop, train, and coach them, send them around the world and building sleds for them that can win races.

In addition to Duluth Trading Company, media sponsors for the Running of the Balls include the Lake Placid News, 100.7 and 102.1 Lake FM, and Adirondack 105 FM. Current sponsors include Margarita Sears, the Quinn family, Golden Arrow Resort, Cobble Mountain Lodge, Lake Placid Family Dental, Casella Waste Systems, Mountain Dental, High Peaks Ford, Long Run Wealth Advisors, Burnham Benefit Advisors, Mountain Orthotic & Prosthetic Services and Yetti Apparel.

Duluth prizes for the yellow and white race will be awarded as follows:

1) $1,000 plus the Duluth Leather Duffle Bag

2) $500 plus the Duluth Cargo Bold Backpack, Duluth Growler

3) $300 plus Duluth Tool Bag, Duluth Growler

4) $200 plus the Duluth CargoBold Backpack

5) $100 plus Duluth Tool Bag, Duluth Karl’s Lunchbox, Duluth Growler

7) Duluth Karl’s Lunchbox

8) Duluth Growler

9) Duluth Spit & Polish Gift Basket

10) Duluth Travel Mug & Tougher Guy Hat

Last) $100 plus the Duluth Tougher Guy Hat

USA Luge will sell tickets by calling 518-523-2071, extension 107, or pay online by logging on to: www.teamusa.org/USA-Luge/NEWS/2021/January/20/6th-Running-of-the-Balls. The deadline for sponsoring balls is Feb. 16.

For more information about USA Luge, visit https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Luge.