PARK CITY — This weekend is the last time the world’s best luge athletes will be able to earn a berth in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Among the hopefuls competing at the Viessmann Luge World Cup Friday and Saturday at Utah Olympic Park are a couple of Utah natives and a BYU student. If they're successful this weekend, they will represent the U.S. in the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February.
Salt Lake native Preston Griffall and doubles partner Matt Mortensen (Hunting Station, N.Y.) need a top 13 finish this weekend to satisfy Olympic selection criteria.
Meanwhile, BYU student and California native Kate Hansen satisfied selection criteria with sixth- and seventh-place finishes this year, despite suffering a broken foot during team selection races in October at the Utah Olympic Park.
She narrowly missed a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Games and is looking forward to being named a member of the U.S. luge Olympic team after this weekend’s World Cup. USA Luge will announce its 10 Sochi nominees in a gala event Saturday night that will be streamed live on usaluge.org.
"I’m definitely a new person from four years ago until now," Hansen said after the World Cup in Calgary last weekend."I’ve never prepared so much for something in my life. I’ve learned a lot. These past four years were a humbling four years.”
She started participating in luge as a fun activity to do with her father and ended up leaving her California home at 15 to train and travel as a world-class athlete.
It paid off when she won the junior world championships in 2008.
After missing the 2010 games, she spent even more time educating herself about how to be a better luge athlete.
“I learned a lot about the sport of luge and I learned a lot about myself,” she said. “I’m more or less just grateful to be in this position. I just feel very prepared. So I’m ready to go."
South Jordan’s Taylor Morris is hoping to finish high enough to force a tiebreaker with teammates for a spot on the U.S. team.
To date, two United States athletes have verified their nominations. Chris Mazdzer’s fifth-place finish several weeks ago stamped his nomination. The Saranac Lake, N.Y., racer was a member of the 2010 Olympic team and placed 13th. After his recent World Cup fifth-place finish, he recorded a career-topping World Cup silver medal last Friday night at frigid Whistler Mountain. Erin Hamlin’s fifth-place effort the following evening secured her spot. Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., is headed to her third Winter Olympics.
In addition, Connecticut native Tucker West and New York native Aiden Kelly have also met selection criteria, just as Hansen did.