Olympian Tucker West hopes to propel luge into the spotlight

Published February 7, 2018

COLLAGE BY MAXWELL N. BURNSTEIN.

In the lead up to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on February 8, 2018, we will be introducing 10 young athletes who will be stealing America’s hearts and standing on the podium.

Tucker West represents the American dream embodied as the boy next door, who just so happens to be entering his second Olympics. This time around, the star slider for Team USA in the sport of men’s luge is planning to best his Sochi performance as he brings the winter sport further into the spotlight.

Racers lay on their backs as the momentum of the take-off propels the luger feet first down the slick race track at death-defying speeds. West is known for using the first of the 1300-meter track to set the pace for his ride. The sport relies on the athlete’s ability to hold speed through the precision of their movements down the course.

West was the youngest male to represent Team USA in luge at 2014’s Sochi Games in Russia, and was perhaps a bit green based on his ranking. Three World Cup wins later and ranked ninth in the world, the 22-year-old is the States’ most promising podium contender.

The role of a luger is to…

Pull a fast start and make it down the track in the shortest way possible, with the cleanest line possible. You’re hoping that the sled equipment and the start time will support your efforts.

My take-offs are an advantage…

For me because the start is the only place you can physically accelerate the sled. Where as the rest of the track you’re fighting with and against gravity to not slow down. Anytime you can put speed into the run is always going to be an advantage.

I use gravity to…

Do my sport. Luge is really centered on gravity. We use gravity against the friction of the ice, and the air passing your body, to carry us down the track. We learn to use momentum in such a way that you’re always working with gravity to get down the track as fast as possible.

The dangers I face are…

The 90 mph speed with only a helmet used to protect us. We don’t wear padding, so can you can get some bumps and bruises. It doesn’t feel as extreme as it may look. The danger is that we are going fast.

The danger helps me…

Have an appreciation for the sport. I always said the day that I don’t get butterflies in my stomach before the run is the day I should hang it up. That is when bad things happen.

The last winter games were…

A dream come true! I was an underdog coming into the spot and I didn’t know what my potential was against all those athletes. To make it as the second of three, and the youngest male to qualify, was a culmination of all the hard work and sacrifice I put into the sport over the years. I knew going into the games I wasn’t a medal threat, but my achievement was in being there. I really just wanted to soak that all in, and gain the experience that was necessary to catapult my career thus far. To date I have multiple World Cup medals and World Championships, so hopefully going into these games I’ll be a threat.

The sport has changed since the last games…

Because of the sled technology. Working with some of the best engineers, giving us the best tools to make our sled top-notch. The sled and sport have advanced, alongside my physical training sliding in an experience-based sport.

I knew I wanted to be an athlete…

When I was watching the Olympic games, those are some of my earliest memories. I was put in front of the television, and just watched in awe as these people completed amazing feats of athleticism. I had always been athletic and the Olympics were what inspired me to be an athlete.

The media attention…

Is what fuels sport these days. More viewers mean more money coming into the program –so to keep Olympic sports alive you need that viewership. In the past, mixed-sports as a sport hasn’t been as focused on, but there has been a push for it in the last couple of years. People enjoy these sports because when the Olympics come around we get to see these unique stories that bring the magic behind the games.

Setting expectations for the games…

Can be very difficult, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve worked my butt off since the last game perfecting my craft, and pushing my career to where I think I could be a medal threat. But really, the ultimate goals is to have four clean runs and hope the results follow.

I want Olympic viewers to…

Look into these mixed-sports when they come into the limelight of the game. They see them every four years, but these athletes are competing in events every year from the Grand Prix to World Cup Competitions. If you see a sport you like, don’t wait four years—go watch it every year!

 

LEARN MORE AT TEAMUSA.ORG. THE WINTER OLYMPICS BEGIN LIVE ON FEBRUARY 8, 2018. THE PARALYMPICS START ON MARCH 9, 2018.