Tall order for USA luge team

Jan. 05, 2012, 5:37 p.m. (ET)

Ty Andersen and Pat Edmunds will compete for a gold medal in luge mixed doubles at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games this January in Innsbruck, Austria. The 16-year-old athletes from Utah already have one unofficial title to their credit: tallest luge team.

Andersen, the front driver, is 6-foot-7, while Edmunds, the back driver, is 6-1.

“It’s kind of an announcer favorite,” Andersen said. “They will be like, ‘They’re making it through the curve and this is the biggest double teams ever to come through here.’ ”

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Typically, most front drivers aren’t taller than 6-1, while the back driver usually ranges in height from 5-8 to 5-10.

“I would have thought there would have been some pretty darn big teams judging by how this is a weight sport,” Andersen said. “Seeing that I’m the biggest kind of perplexes me, to be the honest.”

Andersen feels his height offers a distinct advantage, but there are some pitfalls.

“It’s a weight sport and because I’m so tall and I weigh a lot — I’m 230 or 240 pounds — that weight really does help,” Andersen said. “Now being really tall does come with a little disadvantage. They don’t make sleds big enough for me, so they have to custom build every aspect of the sled so it fits me for my weight and height.”

Andersen, from Alpine, Utah, and Edmunds, from Park City, Utah, found the sport of luge at an Olympics Fundamentals Camp, where they tried numerous winter sports.

“We tried bobsled, skeleton, hockey, curling and some other ones,” Edmunds said, “and also luge. It was the first time I ever had tried it. I had just seen it in the 2002 Olympics. After I tried it I thought it was fun and exciting.

“I had tried all of the different team sports — baseball, basketball — but I never truly enjoyed those or were very good at it. (Luge) was something different and special (compared to) the other sports.”

Andersen shared a similar story. Always tall for his age, he had played several team sports but without much enjoyment.

“I had dabbled around with basketball and football, but I never enjoyed them as much as I did luge,” Andersen said. “I did play just because of my size, not because I was really into them. When I found luge I found I liked it and it was something I was good at.”

Andersen and Edmunds each impressed coaches enough at the fundamentals camp to be invited back for further training. In December, they were nominated to represent Team USA in the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games, set for Jan. 13-22.

“We don’t have a lot of practice experience like the other double teams do,” Edmunds said. “But then we have the advantage with height and weight. We have the gravity portion of the sport down, and the height allows us to distribute the weight to the foot.”

Edmunds said the duo has been fine-tuning their position and ensuring Andersen stays relaxed on runs.

“I’m making sure he’s watching the track a lot more and making sure he isn’t getting tensed up,” Edmunds said.

Andersen recalled a recent run where he “lost his mind a little bit,” which caused the tandem to skid through a turn.

“I just want to find my center and keep it clean down the track,” Andersen said. “I know we can be the fastest.”

At the Winter Youth Olympic Games, the goal is simple:  “We’re hoping for a gold medal down there,” Edmunds said.

Andersen said he is motivated to be the best, quoting Will Ferrell’s character in the movie, “Talladega Nights,” to best exemplify his attitude.

“I like to be the best, it’s just how I am,” Andersen said. “Ricky Bobby says you’re either first or your last, and I really believe that. When I compete I look at the people I’m racing against, will race against and have raced against. I take all of that into account and I try to look at all of them and beat at them all. I’m looking at the Olympics and I want a gold.”

Andersen and Edmunds already have been informed they will not be a team past the Youth Olympic Games.

Edmunds is mulling several options. Ideally, he would like to continue in luge if officials desire, but he could also switch to bobsledding or skeleton.

Or, he may pursue his education in college, studying mechanical engineering; GSI, which would translate to an FBI or CIA career; or technical theatre with an emphasis on sound engineering.

“It’s really diversified,” Edmunds said of his options.

Andersen has been told he’ll have to choose between competing as a single or in doubles.

“I’ve been getting pretty good results in both of them,” Andersen said. “I’m going to have to eventually settle down and pick one. Right now I really don’t know which one I’m going to pick.”

Joining Andersen and Edmunds in Innsbruck will be Summer Britcher, 17, and Raychel Germaine, 16, who will race in the women’s singles event and Tucker West, 16, in men’s singles. West, Andersen and Edmunds, along with one of the two women, also will race in the final luge event of the YOG, the Team Relay.

The team will be coached by Pat Anderson, a former competitor who is now a development coach based in Lake Placid, N.Y.

USA Luge CEO and Executive Director Ron Rossi has high hopes for the teenaged athletes, but added, "just as important, we hope each athlete takes the time to enjoy the total experience as the Austrians have a great reputation for hosting major winter sporting events, including the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, along with a host of World Cup and World Championship events in many sports over the years."

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Brian Peloza is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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