SOCHI 2014

Dec 14 Meet The 2014 U.S. Olympic Luge Team

By Jason Franchuk | Dec. 14, 2013, 11:40 p.m. (ET)
Chris Mazdzer navigates turn 11 in his second run during the Viessmann Luge World Cup event at Utah Olympic Park Dec. 14, 2013 in Park City, Utah.

PARK CITY, Utah -- Silver is solid.

That's how Chris Mazdzer has felt the past two weeks, as he recorded another second-place finish Saturday to accentuate his credentials heading toward the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Mazdzer highlights a 10-person U.S. luge team that was nominated to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee. The full team was announced at the Utah Olympic Park's museum, about 30 miles from Salt Lake City.

Team USA was allowed spots for three men's singles entrants, three women’s entrants and a pair of doubles sleds. Mazdzer, a 2010 Olympian, is a veteran on the men’s side while Erin Hamlin, who will make her third trip to the Winter Games in Sochi, leads the women. Meanwhile, doubles racer Christian Niccum secured his third trip to the Winter Games.

The luge sliders hope to bring home medals in the traditional events in Sochi as well as in the luge team relay, which is making its debut on the Olympic program in 2014.

“I've come to see that this is a family,” said Jim Leahy, the CEO of USA Luge. “I think that when we take a look...to get us to this point, bottom line: This is a fantastic day for us.

“This group of athletes is ready to compete, to win medals, at Sochi."

There were some nip-and-tuck outcomes over the course of the latest world cup events, leading up to this weekend in Park City.

It was so close in some cases, 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey searched for a top-5 finish that would send her to Sochi. Clukey, the top-ranked U.S. athlete last winter finished sixth, about one-hundredth of a second shy of earning an Olympic bid.

But it was also time for upstarts to get their shot.

Kate Hansen, for instance, said she was at a loss for words upon receiving a nomination.

“I am at this table with nine others that … we all share so much passion for the sport,” Mazdzer said. “We all have amazing potential.”

In case you missed it, NBC Sports Network will televise a two-hour show Monday at 9 p.m. EST.

Here’s a look at Team USA’s luge nominees for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games:

WOMEN

Summer Britcher

Hometown: Glen Rock, Pa.

How she got into luge: Fell in love with the sport in 2006 during a tryout. 

Major accomplishments: Gold medal in team relay at 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games; Finished third at seeding event at Park City in October, setting up Olympic chance.

Sochi will mark: First Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "I can't even imagine what it's going to be like. I've wanted to go to the Olympics for as long as I can remember."

You might not know that Summer graduated from high school in 2012. She said it used to be tough balancing "two lives" as a student and athlete.

Erin Hamlin

Hometown: Remsen, N.Y.

How she got into luge: Hamlin was 12 when she tried out in Lake Placid, N.Y., on the track near her hometown. Dad's employer, Verizon, sponsored luge tryouts around the country. So the matchup was a natural.

Major accomplishments: Won gold in women's singles at 2009 FIL World Championships; Finished 12th at Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

Sochi will mark: Third Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: “It's great to get another chance."

You might not know that Erin has a sundae named in her honor. In her hometown, the local ice cream shop created a dessert with vanilla ice cream, Reese's peanut butter cups, Oreos and hot fudge — complete with whipped cream and a cherry. 

Kate Hansen

Hometown: La Canada, Calif.

How she got into luge: Her dad got her started as a fun thing to do together when she was 10.

Major accomplishments: Won junior world championship in 2008. 

Sochi will mark: First Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "I’m definitely a new person from four years ago until now. I’ve never prepared so much for something in my life. I’ve learned a lot. These past four years were a humbling four years.”

You might not know that Kate broke a bone in her foot during a training accident in October on the same Utah track where she earned her nomination to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. 

MEN

Aidan Kelly

Hometown: West Islip, N.Y.

How he got into luge: Grew up playing baseball and skateboarding, and first saw the sport on TV in 2008. Had a need for speed, and went to a tryout in Farmingville, N.Y.

Major accomplishments: Won three medals (two bronze, a silver) at U.S. Luge Association junior nationals in 2011.

Sochi will mark: First Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "I've had enough of my own crashes to know how dangerous this sport is. My family and I have put so much into this. Why give in after how far we've come?"

You might not know that Aidan still suffers back pain from a crash in 2010, in which he crossed the finish line while unconscious after the sled hit a curve and his lead slammed into a wall.

Chris Mazdzer

Hometown: Saranac Lake, N.Y.

How he got into luge: Was 13 when he went to the track looking to fulfill his speed craving. In the next four years, he won three U.S. junior national titles and two second-place finishes during international events.

Major accomplishments: Finished 13th at Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games; sixth at FIL World Luge Championships in 2013; two individual world cup silver medals this season.

Sochi will mark: Second Olympic Winter Games

On making the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team: "I found a good spot where I’m in control, but yet I’m on the edge. Hopefully I will keep this going into Sochi."

You might not know that Chris considers the track at Igls, Austria, his favorite place to race.

Tucker West

Hometown: Ridgefield, Conn.

How he got into luge: Dad, Brett, built a luge track in the family's backyard after being inspired by watching the 2006 Winter Games. Tucker was 6 at the time.

Major accomplishments: 2013 Junior World Cup team bronze medalist; 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games team relay gold medalist; 2012 U.S. champion (tied with Chris Mazdzer); 2011 U.S. junior silver medalist.

Sochi will mark: First Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "It's a good feeling. Back in middle school, people would ask me, 'When are you going to make the Olympics?' And I said, 'I'll shoot for 2018.' It's a big surprise."

You might not know that Tucker was an honors student at National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y.

DOUBLES

Preston Griffall

Hometown: Salt Lake City

How he got into luge: Grew up in the relative backyard of a new Olympic training facility. He was raised in the Salt Lake City suburbs, less than an hour's drive from the tracks.

Major accomplishments: Sixth with then-partner Dan Joye at 2006 Winter Games; Three-time USA Luge start champion with Matt Mortensen; 2013 world cup sixth place in Lake Placid, N.Y., with Mortensen; 2011 world cup fifth place in Calgary with Mortensen.

Sochi will mark: Second Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "This is our opportunity to shine, and so I’d rather go for the win and maybe get a chance at doing it — or crash trying. We’ll see."

You might not know that Preston returned home after being shut out of the 2010 Winter Games and it took two months before he and partner Mortensen spoke again. They agreed it would be "pretty weak" to not chase the Olympic dream again in Sochi. 

Matt Mortensen 

Hometown: Huntington Station, N.Y.

How he got into luge: Started in 2000. From the time he was 12, he's been away from family on his birthday. That's because he was traveling the world for about six months in the winter.

Major accomplishments: Three-time USA Luge start champion; 2013 world cup sixth place in Lake Placid, N.Y., with Preston Griffall; 2011 world cup fifth place in Calgary with Griffall.

Sochi will mark: First Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "This means everything for me. Representing our families and our country and being a member of the World Class Athlete Program and the National Guard. This will be a huge experience for me, and especially after we narrowly missed out on the last Olympics in a race off, this is coming around full circle. We really worked hard for this.”

You might not know that Matt supports himself in the off season by doing a variety of hard-labor jobs, like carpentry, painting and tiling. When his competition days are over, he wants to become a physical therapist.

Christian Niccum

Hometown: Woodinville, Wash.

How he got into luge: Loved wheel-based fun like skateboarding and BMX, and also wakeboarding. At 12, took simulated luge runs down hills near downtown Seattle as part of a youth-screening camp in 1990.

Major accomplishments: Finished 23rd in men's singles at 2006 Winter Games; sixth in doubles with Dan Joye at 2010 Winter Games; 2010 world cup bronze medal with Jayson Terdiman.

Sochi will mark: Third Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "I've had a dream since I was 6 to not just go to the Olympics, but maybe to be up there on the podium. It's great to have another shot at it."

You might not know that Christian wasn’t feeling good during race in Utah as he competed with flu-like symptoms. But wife perked him up with video of 1-year-old daughter taking her first steps.

Jayson Terdiman

Hometown: Berwick, Pa.

How he got into luge: Been involved since 12, first part of a scouting event. 

Major accomplishments: Fourth at world championship (team relay) 2012; 2010 world cup bronze medalist with Christian Niccum. 

Sochi will mark: First Olympic Winter Games

On making the team: "It's everything I've been working for all of these years. It still hasn't hit me yet. But I'm going to be very honored to represent the red, white and blue."

You might not know that Jayson, along with current Sochi teammate, Chris Mazdzer, was a two-time junior national champ (2007-08).

Jason Franchuk is a writer from Salt Lake City. He is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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