Sled racing is one of the oldest winter sports, but the luge is still somewhat new.
Introduced to the Olympics at the 1964 games in Innsbruck, Austria, the most dangerous of the three Olympic sliding sports (which also include skeleton and bobsled) has sliders moving face-up and feet-first down a slick, curvy track at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.
There are only two places in the United States where you can practice competitive luging: Park City, UT and Lake Placid, NY. If you’re a kid from York County with an interest in the sport, you pretty much have to plan your whole life around it. And that’s exactly what Summer Britcher did.
An all-around athlete from an early age – with varied interests in soccer, tennis, skiing and long-distance running – she started honing in on the luge at around the age of 12. At first, this meant spending several weeks in Lake Placid each year. But eventually, Britcher had to customize her school schedule to accommodate significant blocks of training in Lake Placid or competing in Europe.
This month, Britcher, 19, gets to live out her lifelong dream of becoming an Olympic athlete, competing in the luge at the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia on February 10 and 11. Her mom, dad, brother and two sisters will all be there in the audience, cheering her on. Britcher spoke to us last month from Oberhof, Germany in the midst of a busy month of World Cup races that doubled as Olympic training.
Fly Magazine: How does a girl from York County become interested in the luge?
Summer Britcher: It sort of came out of nowhere. My family and I were at Ski Liberty, and they had a fun little luge challenge thing going on in the snow. I tried that out, and it was a lot of fun. The marketing director was there, and my parents were talking to him. He suggested, “Why don’t you take her up to Lake Placid and try out for the team?” I guess we decided it was a good idea, so I went up to Lake Placid and tried luge on the actual ice track, and I was hooked.
FM: Were the Olympic Games on your mind from the beginning?
SB: Yes. I mean, I still feel surprised that I actually made it, but I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics since before I even knew what luge was. When I was really little, I would make my parents film all of the figure skating competitions. I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater. Unfortunately, I was terrible at it. I never even got into lessons. But that was my first Olympic dream. After that, I was like, well, maybe I could be an Olympic skier. But my parents told me it was too dangerous.
FM: They were more comfortable with the luge?
SB: Yeah. Apparently skiing is more dangerous [laughs]. I don’t see the logic in it.
FM: Are you planning to watch the figure skating events while you’re in Sochi?
SB: There’s a raffle for athletes to try to get tickets to other events. If I can get tickets, that would be my favorite thing to watch. I’ll cross my fingers.
FM: You beat out the number one luger from last year’s World Cup season to get your spot at the Olympics. What’s it like to compete on that level against people who are on your own team?
SB: This season I went into it with a pretty solid mindset of what I was going to do. Because if I was worried about other people … you know, you can get caught up in that so easily and then not be worrying about yourself. So I was just telling myself what I needed to do. I needed to get two top nine finishes, and I wasn’t really concerned about other people. I knew that if I performed my best, then it would all work out.
FM: Do you get nervous before big races?
SB: I used to have horrible nerves and anxiety. I’ve been able to overcome that a lot this season. I kind of had to. But previously, I would get really nervous before a race. I would almost feel sick sometimes because I was so nervous. This season has been a really good experience for me to grow and overcome that and learn how to do a race more easily.
FM: Does being an Olympic athlete feel like being a rock star?
SB: As much as I’d like to think of myself as a rock star [laughs]. It’s definitely been life changing so far, and I haven’t even made it to the games yet. But I do have a funny story about that. I was in Park City, UT, when I found out I made the team. My brother was home, and I got a text from him that said, “The people of Arby’s say congratulations.” I asked him what he was talking about and he goes, “I was just trying to order some curly fries and some lady told me congratulations to you. I have no idea who she was.” I just thought that was so funny – she was just this random lady. I live in a small town, and he and I look similar. I guess she just recognized him.
FM: Did you feel overwhelmed by all the buzz around you when you were home over the holidays?
SB: It was fun, and it was incredibly emotional. I didn’t think it would be that emotional – going home and seeing some of the people who have supported and encouraged me for so long, and being able to thank them. It was an emotional but fun few days.
FM: What do you like to do when you’re not luging?
SB: I like to read, which is kind of boring. People usually expect me to say I like to go mountain biking or something. But I like to read. I like to ski when I’m home, if I have time. I like to hang out with friends.
FM: Do you have a favorite book to recommend?
SB: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. And they’re coming out with a movie.
FM: Hopefully it won’t be a disappointment like so many other books that get turned into movies.
SB: I know!
FM: Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited so far in your travels?
SB: I really love Igls, Austria. It’s one of favorite places, if not my favorite place. It’s just so scenic there – the mountains are amazing, and the people are friendly. It’s hard not to love it.
FM: Do you have specific goals for the Olympics?
SB: I would like to get a top 10 finish. I’d be really happy with that.