Gustafson gets ready for first Olympics
LAKE PLACID — Jonny Gustafson isn’t new to luge, but he is new to the Olympics.
The Massena native, who now lives in Lake Placid full time, has competed in four Luge World Championships but has yet to compete at the Olympic Winter Games.
That will all change this weekend when Gustafson represents the United States in the men’s singles competition at the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. in China, 6 a.m. in the United States.
“I would definitely say that making the Olympics is the biggest accomplishment so far,” Gustafson said in a Jan. 21 interview. “I mean, that’s what we work up to. We get one chance every four years. Just going to the Olympics, it’s a big deal.”
When asked about what it means to be an Olympian, Gustafson didn’t have an answer.
But he’ll get to claim that title for the rest of his life.
“Honestly, I have not thought about that, I mean it’s cool, to say the least,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson is the only American men’s singles racer making his Olympic debut during February’s Games. His two teammates, who will be joining him in Beijing, have had plenty of Olympic experience.
Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer have made a combined seven Olympic teams, with Mazdzer having four of those nominations.
Gustafson said he had not really discussed making the Olympics with his American teammates because they were still focused on the last couple of races and making sure they made it to China before they could celebrate.
“They’ve given me some advice like logistics wise and things that were going to have to do and what not, it’s been really helpful,” Gustafson said.
Despite their Olympic-level experience, Gustafson has been the top men’s American slider this season.
The 24-year-old was the top-ranked American man on the World Cup circuit this season taking 20th place overall. Mazdzer and West took 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
But the Olympics are a different animal.
The games are a completely different format than World Cups and World Championships.
At the Olympics, the men’s singles competition will consist of two days of racing four runs totals, while in other events it’s just two runs. Not to mention, the event will be broadcast all over the world.
“Just being in that different environment and doing almost a different style of competing for the first time, I just want to go out there — it kind of sounds cheesy — but just do my best,” Gustafson said. “With luge, that’s not always easy to do.
“Having four clean, consistent runs. Four runs that I can be happy with is something that is probably going to be a challenge for anyone out there,” he added. “I just want to go out there and do the best that I can with those and have four runs that I can be happy with. That I can walk away from and be like, ‘Yeah, that was a really cool and big experience.'”
Lately, Gustafson seems to have found a groove prior to his journey to Beijing.
The day after his interview with the News, he tied his season’s best with a 14th place finish on the long, natural ice track in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Lake Placid connection
When Gustafson was younger, he wasn’t “super into the Olympics.” But that all changed when he discovered luge.
Gustafson is one of the many luge athletes who discovered the sport through the USA Luge Slider Search program.
“One of my friends, Brendan Broderick, heard about it and I think we were in sixth grade or fifth grade maybe. I was 10 or 11. I was 11, I believe.
“There was one in Canton and he told me about it and we talked to our parents about it and they were like, ‘yeah, sure, that sounds like a fun thing to do,'” he added. “So we went to Canton and tried it, and the next thing I know, I’m here 14 or 13 years later.”
After graduating from Massena Central School in 2015, he moved to Lake Placid’s Olympic Training Center full-time to join the USA Luge Junior Team.
While living in Lake Placid, he got a job at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, where he has been working for five years during the summers. He trains in the winter.
“It’s a nice little summer job and it gets me out of the sport mode,” Gustafson said. “It gets me something to do and make a little money with it.”
He said the Adirondack Park is a beautiful place to live, and he loves living in Lake Placid.
“The community and the Lake Placid-Saranac Lake area is incredible,” Gustafson said. “Just with the community at the training center — as well as the local community — and everything around.”
Making the Olympics is something that people dream about, but this year, athletes will compete without their biggest supporters cheering them on in Beijing.
The Olympics will have no foreign spectators, including athletes’ families and friends.
“My parents are my biggest supporters hands down. I know everyone probably says that, but I mean, they are,” Gustafson said. “They wake up every weekend to watch my races and they are always there to talk and chat or just root me on. It would’ve been incredible to have them there. It definitely stinks a little bit. It’s unfortunate.”
Even though his parents won’t be in Beijing to cheer him on, they’ll be able to watch him race early in the morning at the USA Luge’s watch party at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
He said they rented out a space for themselves and a bunch of his family and friends for an after party.
“They are still at the very least getting together with a bunch of people. Which will still be awesome to see that,” Gustafson said. “I’m sure they are going to send me pictures and everything. I would definitely prefer to have them there, but this is where we are at.”