Luger Tucker West poses for a portrait during the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games on September 25, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
In a universally turbulent year, two-time Olympic luger Tucker West is focusing on the upsides.
This fall, for example, the U.S. team will watch from home as the world cup season gets underway in Austria and Germany after USA Luge, citing the coronavirus pandemic, decided to delay its entrance to the tour. For West, though, that also means he’ll have the rare opportunity to be with family in Ridgefield, Connecticut, for Thanksgiving.
“You can’t take for granted all the extra time you get at home,” he told TeamUSA.org in a phone interview.
Likewise, in his adopted hometown of Lake Placid, New York, West has made the most of extra athletic and academic time.
Last month he christened the facility’s new refrigerated start ramps with a record eighth victory at the USA Luge Start Championship.
Meanwhile, the 2012 Youth Olympian is now a senior at the University of Florida, where he transferred in 2017 after whittling off his freshman credits over three springs at Union College. He will have commenced and completed his degree in business administration online, mostly before distance learning became a literal household expression.
“I’m kind of ahead of the trend,” he said with a chuckle, “so it’s been a seamless transition for me.”
The return to international competition, however, is a little more complicated.
In September, the International Luge Federation withdrew from North American sites for the upcoming season, which meant no January stop in Lake Placid and, crucially, no February world championships in Whistler, British Columbia.
For the U.S. sliders, who traditionally perform better on the more familiar North American tracks, the decision was a blow. West, for example, has won three world cup races in his career — two in Lake Placid, one at Whistler.
He admitted to feeling “extremely disappointed” about the Whistler move in particular, adding that a North American world championships “would have been a victory for us,” he said.
There is reason for optimism about the revised schedule, though.
While USA Luge has yet to confirm its 2020-21 debut, the team could return to the world cup as soon as the Jan. 2-3 stop in Koenigssee, Germany. The Bavarian track is also slated to hold the world championships later in the month.
That’s good news for West, who won the U23 world title on that track in 2016 and has posted four top-10 finishes there. His 12th-place finish in Koenigssee last season marked his best singles result on a European track.
“I do historically well in Koenigssee,” said West, who has also won relay silver medals in Koenigssee in three of the past four years. “We have a very strong relay team there. At the singles event, I like the track.
“So out of all the European tracks, I’m happy with this choice.”
Koegnissee could represent his first chance to build on his 13th-place finish, tops among all Americans, in the 2019-20 standings. Until Team USA gets there, by West’s estimate, 200 test runs await at home. It will mark another refreshing of normalcy after social distancing precautions forced athletes and coaches to train solo over the summer.
“Not the end of the world,” West said. “But when you can’t train with your fellow teammates, you don’t really get to compare to anybody else. We usually draw motivation from those comparison aspects.”
The athletes will have more opportunity for camaraderie in the coming weeks, however. Though many lugers have been training in recent weeks at the Lake Placid Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, the team on Monday will begin training using full track at nearby Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
Having some extra time to train and prepare for the season is “not necessarily a bad thing,” West said. And coming off his triumph at the team’s traditional kickoff at the start championship, he said, “Everybody looks strong, everybody looks fast.”
Moreover, West insists, rust will not be a threat come 2021.
“Hopefully we come out on the other side with faster equipment and stronger, healthier bodies,” West said.