Ray Brook native gets a shot a 2026 Olympics

Sophie Kirkby (Photo provided —USA Luge)

LAKE PLACID — If flying down a luge track at a near 70 mph wasn’t risky enough, imagine doing that without the possibility of making the Olympics.

That’s what Sophie Kirkby, of Ray Brook, risked when she switched over from singles luge to doubles during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There was definitely no official say until this year,” Kirkby said, referring to the possibility of women’s doubles luge not being a part of the 2026 Olympic Winter Games in Milano Cortina, Italy. “So I went two or three years without knowing.”

But luckily for her, and other women’s doubles luge athletes around the world, their chances of making the Olympics can finally happen in 2026.

On June 24, the International Olympic Committee decided to add a women’s doubles luge event to the 2026 Games.

“I was pretty happy that the International Olympic Committee and just the FIL (International Luge Federation), in general, is looking at a quality — and in both sexes — sport,” Kirkby said. “I was pretty happy that they put a lot of effort into that.”

Women’s doubles will also be added to the Olympic team relay competition, which previously consisted of one doubles team and two singles of both genders.

The decision comes as a principle set by IOC to achieve gender-equal participation across the 2026 Winter Olympics at event and discipline levels where possible. According to the IOC, the 2026 Games are expected to become the most gender-balanced in Winter Olympic history.

“The Olympic Committee has been working hard on trying to equalize all sports,” said Kirkby, who referenced the addition of women’s monobob to the bobsledding program in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

While doubles luge has been around since the sport debuted at the 1964 Winter Olympics, historically only men have competed in the event on that level. It was not until within the past few years that women’s doubles began to hold events. The women’s discipline was first featured at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics before being added to the FIL World Cup circuit.

Before making the switch, Kirkby, along with her doubles luge partner Chevonne Forgan, had been competing separately in the Junior World Cup singles race. Kirkby said it was never her idea to switch over to doubles.

“It was my previous head coach’s idea to put us together,” Kirkby said. “They asked us if we would try doubles, and we did.”

While Kirkby said she is happy with the decision to switch, competing in doubles isn’t as easy as hopping on a sled with another person. Kirkby said the move has caused her to make adjustments to her training.

“I am a bottom woman, so for starters, the start is new and different to me,” Kirkby said. “I no longer even touch the handles. My top woman, Chevonne, has straps along the sides of her arms, and I hold on to those straps and I help us pull off. So it’s just a new pull, and I don’t even touch the handles and it’s about coordination with my partner.”

While making the Olympics is never guaranteed — especially one that is just about four years away — Kirkby and Forgan have already set the bar high for Team USA women’s doubles luge athletes. They earned a bronze medal at the first-ever women’s World Cup doubles competition in La Plagne, France on Dec. 2, 2021, and in the first-ever women’s doubles luge world championship in Winterberg, Germany on Jan. 30.

“It felt great,” Kirkby said on the experience of competing in groundbreaking women’s doubles luge events. “It definitely felt different. It was like, ‘Oh wow, now I can accomplish these things.’ On top of that, I get to share it with someone else and work with it.”

Kirkby and Forgan are expected to continue their doubles luge journey into the upcoming season.

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