A relay in any sporting event requires the utmost teamwork.
What three world-class Team USA athletes did at the 2017 FIL Luge World Championships on Jan. 29 in Igls, Austria, was above and beyond the definition of teamwork. And their actions even led to a silver-medal performance.
In order to determine a U.S. relay team — which includes a singles man, a singles woman and one doubles team — USA Luge picks the fastest racers from earlier in the world championships.
Erin Hamlin, a three-time Olympian and Olympic bronze medalist, had easily punched her ticket to be a member of the relay team after a gold in the sprint and silver in the singles competition. The three slots for the men were up for grabs.
Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk clocked the fastest doubles time out of three U.S. sleds to earn a spot on the relay team. Taylor Morris logged a career-best fifth-place finish in the sprint, tops for U.S. men’s singles athletes, to get his position in the relay.
|(L-R) Justin Krewson, Andrew Sherk and Taylor Morris pose at the FIL Luge World Championships on Jan. 29 in Igls, Austria.|
What Krewson, Sherk and Morris did next was truly honorable and entirely unexpected. Krewson and Sherk gave up their spots to veterans Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, and Morris passed up his chance at the team relay to allow Tucker West to compete.
The move was an ultimate team decision.
“I thought it was a remarkable show of sportsmanship,” said Mark Grimmette, the USA Luge sports program director, who competed in five Olympic Games. “It shows that they think of the team before themselves.”
Morris said he made the decision immediately and didn’t consult with Krewson or Sherk.
“I finished the race and hopped on the truck to head up to the start and change out of my sliding gear,” said Morris, who would have raced on his first international relay team. “While on the truck, Tucker and I discussed the team relay spot, and I offered the position to him right then and there.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for me as I knew exactly what had to happen to put the best team on the ice.”
West, who has won two world cups this season and was on two medal-winning relay teams, initially told Morris he wouldn’t accept the relay spot.
“He said, ‘No. You earned the spot, so you race the event,’” Morris said.
Terdiman was out to dinner with his parents when he received a text from his doubles teammate Mortensen saying the duo was going to be racing in the relay.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” said Terdiman, who placed 11th in doubles at the Sochi Games. “This was the biggest race of the year, and the boys had rightfully earned the spot. It took me a few minutes to accept that they were giving us the anchor in the relay.”
Hamlin, for one, was not surprised to see the selflessness from the young sliders.
“I know all those guys would have loved the opportunity to race, and they all earned it,” she said. “It was very noble of them and truly such selfless moves.”
Hamlin led off the relay and recorded the third-fastest run time for women. Then it was time for redemption.
“Between all of us, we had a lot of great potential,” Hamlin said. “I also think those guys were all coming in with some revenge in their eyes.”
West shook off previous rough races to put the Americans in first place by 0.4 seconds heading into the doubles portion of the race. So it all came down to Mortensen and Terdiman, who said he’d never felt more nervous before the start of a race. When his doubles sled crossed the finish line at a track relay record time of 2:08.664, he knew they’d made their teammates’ sacrifice count.
Now they just had to wait. There were still four teams remaining to compete out of 15, so a medal wasn’t guaranteed. Ultimately the Germans nabbed the title with a time of 2:08.474, but the silver belonged to the Americans.
Bringing home second place proved to Morris that he made a wise choice to give his spot to West.
“It gives me validation in the decision,” Morris said. “But even if he hadn’t done well I would have known the decision was the right one for the event at hand.”
It was the first team relay medal earned by Team USA in world championships history.
“They did a great job of setting aside their disappointments in their individual events to give a medal-winning performance in the team relay,” Grimmette said. “We also have to remember that Tucker, Matt and Jayson had an enormous amount of pressure on them as they did not want to disappoint their teammates who gave up their spots so they could race. They came through not only for themselves, but also for their teammates.”
Terdiman has a close relationship with all his teammates, but what the group went through at the world championships will only tighten their bond on and off the track. Terdiman was elated he could be a part of history capturing the silver medal.
“There are no words,” Terdiman said. “It was pure happiness — not just for us, Erin and Tucker, but for the entire team. It was Taylor, Justin and Andrew as well. I’ve never been more proud of a group of individuals. It’s an honor to be on this team.”
Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who has covered Green Bay Packers games for the past eight seasons. He has been a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org since 2010 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.