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USA Luge shows off facility for Olympic Day

USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy poses Thursday, June 24, at the team’s headquarters in Lake Placid. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — USA Luge and International Luge Federation (FIL) officials made two significant announcements Thursday, June 24, as part of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s day-long tour of local facilities where athletes train for the Olympics.

With the goal of celebrating Olympic Day, which was Wednesday, June 23, stops were made at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center on Old Military Road, USA Luge headquarters on Church Street and Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, where VIPs and media met with athletes, coaches and managers in the sports of luge, bobsled, skeleton, biathlon and Nordic skiing.

“This has been really special for us with having four of the national teams here training, getting to debut or show off our new training facilities,” ORDA CEO Mike Pratt said at the recently renovated USA Luge building, which is owned by USA Luge, but the land is owned by ORDA. “And we have a fifth national team that’s committed to starting their training after the Olympics.”

The biggest opportunity with the multi-million-dollar ORDA’s venue upgrades — for athletes and coaches — is the year-round opportunity for Olympic hopefuls to train in Lake Placid, according to Pratt.

During the tour of the USA Luge facility, Claire DelNegro, the FIL’s vice president sport artificial track, announced that Lake Placid would be hosting a World Cup on Dec. 4-5. It will be the first time in two years that the combined track at Mount Van Hoevenberg has hosted a World Cup; luge and bobsled/skeleton competitions were canceled this past winter due to the coronavirus pandemic.

State Olympic Regional Development Authority CEO Mike Pratt poses Thursday, June 24 at USA Luge headquarters. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“We’re happy to see all the improvements happening here,” said DelNegro, who competed in luge for Great Britain at the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. “I would like to invite all of you to come out and actually see luge in person on the track. It’s a very exciting sport, and I think you’ll all become big, big fans.”

It was also announced that luge athletes would be using the Plattsburgh International Airport this winter for the first time. After competing at the World Cup in Whistler, Canada, the entire circuit will be flying into Plattsburgh prior to the Lake Placid World Cup and leaving from the same airport as they head to Europe for the next leg of the tour.

Thursday’s tour of the USA Luge headquarters comes more than a year after an open house to unveil the upgrades was canceled due to the pandemic. Although this was not an open house, VIPs and media were given a tour by officials such as USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy, Director of Marketing and Sponsorship Gordy Sheer and Sports Programs Director Mark Grimmette.

The $5 million upgrade from the state reshaped the headquarters. The original 8,400-square-foot building was constructed in 1991, and the 15,000-square-foot renovated building was completed in 2020. It now includes more office space, a fabrication shop to build sleds indoors (instead of under a tent outside the old building), equipment rooms and a state-of-the-art refrigerated start facility.

“There’s nothing like this facility in the world, and we are extremely proud,” Leahy said. “This is not only for our current athletes, but this is for athletes in generations to come. We have a world-class facility here with world-class work rooms, world-class training at the Olympic Training Center. We’ve added a weight room. So we’ve got all of the resources here to make our athletes successful.”

Olympian Summer Britcher poses Thursday, June 24 at USA Luge headquarters in Lake Placid. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

The new start track has two 230-foot ice ramps with four different angles, two down and two up.

“One of the elevations on this particular track will duplicate what is going to be in Beijing,” Leahy said.

The new track is longer than the previous single start ramp, which only allowed athletes to pull off the handles and paddle down the ice; it did not give them room to settle into the sled, which is an important part of the training. The new ramps are long enough for athletes to settle into their sleds. When they finish at the first ramp, they simply walk over to the second for another trip down the ice.

Two-time Olympian Summer Britcher said she didn’t realize what she was missing until the new facility opened.

“This new facility is phenomenal. We’re super grateful for it,” Britcher said. “The longer ramps that we have allow us to get more out of our paddle training, and the ability to settle in the sled is huge. For me personally, I have a very powerful pull part of the start, but I have been a little bit weaker on the paddle aspect.”

Claire DelNegro, the FIL’s vice president sport artificial track, speaks at USA Luge headquarters in Lake Placid on Thursday, June 24. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

When state funding for the USA Luge upgrades was announced in 2016, Empire State Development officials also said they would include $1 million for marketing, specifically for televising the World Cup events in Lake Placid.

“One of the things that we have to do is provide a television signal to host World Cup races here in the United States,” Sheer said. “And the state of New York was kind enough to help us fund that … getting that signal out there for the rest of the world to see.”

Last season, USA Luge did not participate in World Cup races due to the pandemic but did travel to Europe for the second part of the tour.

USA Luge athletes began training for their upcoming Olympic season on their new start ramps in early May. The team is expected to train in Whistler and Europe in September, return to Lake Placid for training in October, and spend three weeks training on the Olympic run at the Yanqing Sliding Center outside of Beijing in November before the World Cup season begins there on Nov. 20-21.

The World Cup tour then heads to North America for two stops, Whistler and Lake Placid, before traveling to Altenberg, Germany and Igls, Austria in December. After the Christmas break, the tour continues at four European stops: Konigssee, Germany; Sigulda, Latvia; Oberhof, Germany; and St. Moritz, Switzerland.

USA Luge headquarters in Lake Placid (News photo — Andy Flynn)

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games will be held from Feb. 4 to 20 in Beijing, China.

Prior to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, tensions heated up between the U.S. and North Korea, yet USA Luge officials remained focused on the competition. Much is the same this year with a proposed boycott of the 2022 games to make a statement against China’s human rights policies.

“Our focus is getting our athletes ready to compete,” Leahy said. “We’ll let the USOPC work on whatever geopolitical situation they need to work on with the U.S. government. But as far as we’re concerned, USA Luge is training for China. We have every intention with our international federation of being in China. Whether there will be spectators or not is probably the biggest question that we have to address right now.”

In the meantime, USA Luge will be hosting White Castle slider searches for students aged 9 to 12 this summer in places such as Lake Placid; Salt Lake City, Utah; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Burlington, Vermont.

For more information, visit www.usaluge.org.

Start ramp at USA Luge headquarters in Lake Placid (News photo — Andy Flynn)