Luge moms ready for cowbells at watch parties

Family and friends of USA Luge athletes cheer for Chris Mazdzer at the finish line during the 2015 World Cup at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. Mazdzer’s mother, Marty Lawthers, is seen at far left. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — The Winter Olympics kick off Friday, Feb. 4, and the #lugemoms are switching their schedules to Beijing time.

Even though USA Luge athletes such as Emily Sweeney, Chris Mazdzer and Jonny Gustafson will slide through their luge competitions next week without the sound of family cheering them on, their moms will be making noise together with family at the Mount Van Hoevenberg lodge Olympic watch parties.

The local lugers will begin their competitions well after the Beijing sunset, but their moms will be rising with the sun — or before — to catch the broadcast. China Standard Time is 13 hours ahead.

“Lots of caffeine — that’s all I ask for the first hour or two,” Sue Sweeney said.

USA Luge Sponsorship and Marketing Director Gordy Sheer said that there will be plenty of coffee and breakfast for the lugers’ friends and family, but the watch parties are closed to the public due to the pandemic. Sheer said he expects anywhere from 80 to 130 people spread out over the two floors of the lodge, cheering on the team.

Sue Sweeney (mom of Emily Sweeney) (Photo provided)

For Sue and Joanne Gustafson, support is the name of the game. The luge moms are tight knit — Twitter handle and all — and they’re brought together by the pride they have in their kids. Sue said the moms will be together at the lodge “each and every day” during the luge competitions.

“Even if our child is not racing, we’ll be there to support each other and each other’s families, and certainly each other’s athletes,” she said.

Sue said it’s an “odd” feeling to be so far away from the competition, although she and the other luge moms have gotten used to watching more and more races online as the pandemic has maintained a steady course. She said the moms have kept in close contact throughout the season, texting each other in real time as they watch the races at home.

This will be Jonny’s first Olympics, and Joanne said it’s hard to believe after 12 years of supporting him in training for the competition.

“Honestly, I’m having a hard time focusing this week at work and getting anything accomplished,” Joanne said. “I’m really, really excited for him.”

Joanne Gustafson (mom of Jonny Gustafson) (Photo provided)

She said talking with the other moms and texting them during those 3 a.m. broadcast competitions has offered her the laughs and support she needs.

“Without them, it would be a challenge, for sure,” she said. “They know what’s happening and what we’re all feeling, and I can talk to them and ask them questions if I need to.”

For Sue, being far away from Emily during competition is also “disconcerting.” Emily sustained a crash during her last Olympic slide at Pyeongchang in 2018, and Sue wants to be there for the good times and the bad.

Danger is part of the sport though, Sue said, and she thinks Emily has a stronger mental and physical game than she’s had in the past. She said Emily has a way of side-stepping adversity and keeping her eyes on the Olympic stage, no matter what challenges come up.

“We’re so intensely proud of her that it far outweighs any nervousness that we would have about her getting back on the sled and being back in the big time,” Sue said.

Seven of the USA Luge Moms pose Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020 after riding the new Cliffside Coaster at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg. From left are Marty Lawthers (mom of Chris Mazdzer), Pam West (mom of Tucker West), Carrie Britcher (mom of Summer Britcher), Krista DiGregorio (mom of Zack DiGregorio), Jill Cardinale Segger (mom of Duncan Segger), Joanne Gustafson (mom of Jonny Gustafson) and Sue Sweeney (mom of Emily Sweeney). (Photo provided)

Sue knows the pressure that comes with luging — she’s tried it before, but only once.

“That was enough for me,” she said.

Making some noise

The luge moms are known for cheering on their athletes with patriotic outfits and cowbells, and Sue hinted that the tradition will continue this year so the moms can create a sense of normalcy while cheering through the virtual races.

“Well, we don’t want to give any secrets away ahead of the day, but I know for certain that there will be a little bit of dressing up, and I think people are hoping that cowbells will be allowed,” she said. “I know that’s a lot of noise inside an enclosed space, so we might have to have little tinkly bells instead of those big heavy ones.”

But it looks like their big bell dreams will come true.

“They can cowbell as loud as they want,” Sheer said. “We want people to have fun and be enthusiastic, you know, and I feel badly for the families that they can’t be there, but we’re trying to create the next best thing.”

Joanne said her family will be donning hats that say “Team Jonny,” and she’s got a batch of red beards (a la Jonny) for people to wear.

“It’ll be nice to have a gathering, go someplace with our luge families and our regular families and friends and be able to watch this together, and cheer Jonny and the rest of the team on,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Sheer is crossing his fingers that beverages besides coffee will be in order after the races.

“Hopefully we’ll have reason to break out some champagne, but I don’t wanna count my chickens,” he said.

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