PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Team USA luge athlete Emily Sweeney got one of the biggest ovations at the Olympic Sliding Centre on Tuesday night simply for standing up.
Sweeney, a first-time Olympian, lost control of her sled on a tricky portion of the track on her fourth and final run of the women’s singles competition.
She careened in a zig-zag pattern down the course as the crowd watching the video screen gasped. Sweeney then went straight up the wall, hit the lip with her feet, bounced back down and was thrown off her sled as she hit the other side.
When Sweeney finally stopped sliding, she didn’t move for quite some time. The video feed at the venue showed U.S. coaches with their faces in their hands.
Brooke Apshkrum of Canada, then the fourth-run leader, winced during the replay of the crash and looked distressed as Sweeney was surrounded by track personnel.
Sweeney’s teammates, Summer Britcher and Erin Hamlin, were waiting at the top of the track for their turns to race.
“When Emily crashed, that was really hard,” Britcher said. “I’ve never been so relieved as when I saw her getting up and walking.”
The spectators and Sweeney’s coaches burst into applause.
While officials initially put Sweeney in an ambulance, she got out and stayed at the venue where she appeared to be walking gingerly. USA Luge officials said she was “banged up,” but had no broken bones.
Sweeney did not speak to reporters in the mixed zone, but told a photographer, “I’m fine.”
Hamlin said she was rattled by the accident.
“Emily and I are very close,” said Hamlin, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who wound up finishing sixth. “I just wanted to make sure she was OK. At that point, sports and racing doesn’t matter, it’s someone’s health. I was really glad to see her get up.”
Britcher said she “did my best to put it out of my head.” However, she immediately veered into the right wall at the start, costing her momentum and falling from eighth to 19th. She posted the fastest time of the competition on Monday during her second run.
“I really wanted to get a start record,” Britcher said. “I gave it everything I had, slipped a little bit and mistakes happen.”
She also knows what it’s like to crash like Sweeney did, though she said it had been a couple of years since she had a bad one.
“It is dangerous – We’re going 80 miles per hour with a helmet on down an ice track,” Britcher said. “We train for years and years and work our way up to the starts. Everyone competing at this level is incredibly talented, but accidents do happen. That’s the nature of the sport – any sport – at a high level.”
Sweeney, who had waited eight years for her Olympic chance – losing a race-off for the final Olympic slot to her own sister prior to the 2010 Games – wound up with a DNF for the event.
But at least she was OK.