2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Spotlight: Preston Griffall
January 10, 2014
Who knows what could have happened if Preston Griffall, a member of the U.S. Olympic luge team, stayed with his original sport?
Maybe this article would be focusing on how he’s preparing to represent Team USA as a member of the men’s ski jumping team.
Or, maybe, he wouldn’t be an Olympian at all.
The decision that shaped Griffall’s future happened during the buildup to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and Park City.
"I first started coming up here to the Utah Olympic Park when I was 10 years old," the Utah native said. "I started ski jumping with one of my family friends – he asked me to do it with him and so I was actually up here ski jumping for a year."
But then, as the Olympic bobsled/skeleton/luge track was being built, Griffall’s curiosity was piqued.
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"At that time, they were starting a program up here and they were just trying to get any kids involved in the sport," he said. "That’s how I first heard about it."
Whoever told him about luge must have been a pretty good salesman, knowing exactly how to get Griffall excited to give it a shot.
"It sounded pretty interesting to me," he said. "It was kind of explained to me as ‘extreme sledding,’ which at 10 or 11 years old, what kid doesn’t want to try that out? So I asked my parents and they signed me up. I tried it out and that was pretty much it – I kept sliding and eventually raced my way onto a team."
That path would eventually lead him to a spot on the 2006 Olympic Team.
"That was an unbelievable experience," he said. "For us in luge, the Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport. It’s the biggest competition and it’s really what everyone is driving to really get to."
Sliding with Dan Joye, Griffall earned an eighth-place finish in Torino, Italy.
But, after switching partners and teaming up with Matt Mortensen, growing pains led to missing out on a berth in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"After Matt and I missed making the 2010 team, I came back home for awhile – I was a bit depressed," Griffall said. "After we lost that race-off [for the last U.S. doubles spot], I came back home and didn’t even want to think about luge. I didn’t even watch the Olympics – I didn’t really care to watch it. I would just look at the results afterwards. My dad recorded it, and I’ve watched it since then, but I just came home and I was skiing and hanging out with my friends and doing a lot of thinking."
Eventually, though, Mortensen and Griffall decided to get back on the sled.
"I didn’t even talk to Matt for a month and a half," Griffall said. "It was maybe two months later that Matt finally called me. We had a long conversation and decided it would be pretty weak of us to just bow out like that. So we decided we were going to do everything we could to make this next Olympics."
And make the Olympics they did. At a World Cup event in Park City on Dec. 13 and 14, Mortensen and Griffall finished in ninth place to clinch a Sochi berth.
Griffall can’t wait for his second Olympic experience.
"Putting on that Team USA jacket gives you an unbelievable sense of pride and joy," he said. "To walk into those Opening Ceremonies is a pretty unbelievable experience that you just can’t really explain unless you’re there."
For a man who represents his country both as an athlete and as a member of the U.S. National Guard through the Army’s World Class Athlete program, the honor is not taken for granted.
"We put so many hours and days of work into this sport," he said. "To be named to an Olympic team, it makes all of the work, and all of the sacrifice that you and your family and friends and coaches make, worth it. It wasn’t all for nothing."
Every week until the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, The Park Record will profile an Olympic hopeful with ties to the Park City area. Check back next week for a story on speedskater Patrick Meek.
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