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The Long Run

Tucker West’s road to the Olympics



Photo above by Daniel Hurlimann

When Brett West took to the skies in his motorized parachute on a picturesque day last fall, he did so for more than the sweeping views of the Adirondacks, where the 52-year-old entrepreneur has a lakefront home. It was, for West, the perfect vantage point to capture people’s attention and explain how his 22-year-old son can make a repeat trip to the winter Olympics, on the luge team.

“The Olympic trials take place at the World Cup that starts in November,” explained the Ridgefield father of three in a video posted to the “Team Tucker” Facebook page. “While Tucker and his teammates will be racing against the best in the world for the World Cup, it will be a race within a race. Because depending on how each does in those five races, the top three American men will make the American team.” 

By virtue of strong finishes in the World Cup, son Tucker did go to the Olympic Games in South Korea and raced on February 10 and 11. In the luge competition, racers travel at speeds around 80 mph down labyrinthine sheets of silken ice, guided by only the subtlest movements of their hands and feet. Tucker learned the niche sport of luge, as a kid, in his own West Mountain Road backyard by sliding down an 800-foot long, homemade track.

(Photo: In 2002, Brett West built an 800-foot luge run at the family’s West Mountain Road home, replete with ice-making, a sound system, lights, and timing.)

Then at age 18, in 2014, West became the youngest man in American history to qualify for the Olympics in luge.

Now he’s a sports celebrity—and a great social-media follow. His Instagram feed @tuckerwest1 chronicles the itinerant life of an elite luger. On it, followers can see West racing down a snow-covered mountain in Vancouver, lifting giant weights at a training center in Colorado Springs, being photographed on a throne for NBC’s Olympic television coverage in Hollywood, hanging out with swans in scenic Prague, and eating schnitzel the size of a steering wheel in Vienna. NBC featured Tucker in promotional commercials for the Olympics, he’s made an appearance on “Sesame Street,” and has been the feature of numerous national media stories. Through a few taps of a smartphone, West’s fans can come along on his storied journey.

It’s also the way that this globetrotter stays connected to his roots back home. “Ridgefield’s incredible,” Tucker told me when we talked in Lake Placid, where he moved in ninth grade to pursue his athletic passion. “The town’s support is so heartfelt and warm.”

West spends around nine months a year in Lake Placid, consumed by a sport most Americans see but every four years. That has never diminished the 22-year-old’s unwavering focus or commitment. 

Each morning, with the sky still black and the weather blistering cold, West takes practice runs down the 1.3-kilometer-long, 19-curve luge track on Mount Van Hoevenberg. When it’s too warm to slide outside, he practices his starts on ice ramps in a refrigerated room inside the headquarters of the United States Luge Association. He then works on his sled, filing his steels down to the millimeter to try and gain even the slightest edge over his competition. In the afternoons, he lifts weights and maintains a regimented diet and fitness programs. He does it all to make the most of any opportunity that may come his way.

One such opportunity came in the 2014 Olympics, when he finished 22nd among a field of established racers in Sochi, Russia. It was clear that the 18-year-old wouldn’t just be a medal contender at the next Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but at many Winter Games to come. “I really felt the whole town behind me,” Tucker says about his first Olympic experience, which included an appearance on “Today,” with his dad—who let girls everywhere know that his son was available. 

Tucker took away plenty from Sochi. He earned valuable experience that lugers typically receive at a later age. He saw a new part of the world (“One of the best venues I’ve ever been to.”) and made lasting memories—he was one of the lucky few to witness the thrilling, eight-round U.S.-Russia hockey shootout in person. He even took the name of the coastal city for his family’s English mastiff. But most importantly, West came away from the 2014 Olympics assured of his skill, and with the confidence that he could harness it on the biggest stage.

“At the time, it was more of a race to make the Olympic team for me than to race and do well at the Olympics,” he says. “I was one of the youngest, an underdog coming up. Now that I’ve had the taste of success, it’s still going to be hard. But I’m going to be looking for better results than I achieved in Sochi.”

Later that same year, West won his first World Cup event in Lake Placid, setting a track record in the process. Two years later, he won back-to-back gold medals on the circuit, in Lake Placid and in Calgary. While many were thinking of the future, West—the United States’ best hope, in the short and long term, for an elusive Olympic gold in luge—remained in the moment. “The goal is just to continue this momentum,” West told me after capturing his second title on his home track in 2016.

Tucker West competes on February 10 and February 11. “The Olympic season is exciting, stressful, exhausting and just about every other emotion in the book,” West says, “but this is what we live for!”


DON’T BLINK Luge races are timed to the thousandth of a second. “Faster than you can blink,” says West, who in one World Cup trailed by .001 at the final split before getting the win.

 

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