Griffall tuning up for Turin
Last month, Salt Lake native Preston Griffall and the Wasatch Luge Club slid to their biggest victory to date. Griffall, who learned to slide at the Utah Olympic Park through the efforts of the Wasatch Luge program, beat fellow American luge duo Christian Niccum and Patrick Quinn in a slide-off to make the U.S. Olympic Team. Griffall, who competes in doubles luge with his partner Dan Joye, is the first Wasatch Luge Club alumni to make an Olympic team. The club presented Griffall with a commemorative certificate last Friday in a ceremony honoring his accomplishments. Ten years ago Jon Owen, western regional program manager for USA Luge (USLA) started down his own track of sorts, moving to Utah and establishing the Wasatch Luge Club as Salt Lake prepared for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. One of the first kids to join the program was Griffall. Owen’s efforts have finally come full circle as Griffall prepares to head to Turin. "He was one of our original kids," Owen said. "He proved all our theories that it takes 10 years. We’re right on track." Griffall’s accomplishment is so important to the Wasatch Luge Club, because it serves as a model for dozens of young local sliders. "It proves you can start locally and make it," Owen said. Griffall has not forgotten his roots. Griffall and his family continue to participate in Wasatch Luge Club programs and fundraisers and Griffall often visits with the young sliders. "You couldn’t pick a better luge athlete and a better role model," said Bill Lesar, Wasatch Luge Club president. Griffall’s achievement also means a good dose of credibility for the Wasatch program. "It’s very important. Luge is a low profile sport," Lesar said. It gives our program and coaches credit that we make good athletes and everyone wants to be part of a winning program. Griffall has been working hard all season to make it this far. He and Joye won another race-off in October to earn a spot on the World Cup circuit, and just continued to slide better and better from there on. When they were tied for the fifth spot in the top tier of the World Cup in December, a slide off for the last Olympic berth became necessary and Griffall and Joye were able to win two out three of the races. They won by a combined two-run time that was a mere 0.12 seconds faster than Niccum and Quinn. "In the races that counted, we’ve been able to put down clean runs," Griffall said. It took awhile for Griffall to realize the magnitude of his accomplishments. "At first it didn’t hit me. I couldn’t believe we were going to the Olympics," Griffall said. There are still three more World Cups before the entire American luge team heads to "the big show" in Italy, but Griffall is confident that everything is on track, literally. His sled has been performing well, allowing himself and Joye to focus solely on sliding well, without the distraction of technical adjustments. He is confident that his team can make a splash at the Games. "If we can slide at our best, anything is possible," Griffall said. Griffall stays grounded, though. He says that everything he has accomplished is because of the superior efforts of the Wasatch Luge Club. "The Wasatch Luge Club is the most organized club in the USLA," said Griffall, explaining the fundraising and training efforts that have allowed youth from all backgrounds to learn how to slide. "I probably wouldn’t be here. They really help out. It’s pretty amazing." The Wasatch Luge Club says Griffall has reciprocated that effort. "It puts pride in our clubs, pride in the [Utah Olympic] Park, and pride in the cities on both sides of the Wasatch. We are so proud of him," Lesar said. Griffall hopes to continue the feeling of pride. "I’m not representing myself as far as I know. I’m representing the U.S., the Wasatch Luge Club, Salt Lake City, the Olympic Park," Griffall said. "I’ve spent so many hours up here, it’s like my extended family almost. I’ll be representing everyone."
Griffall and Joye will join Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin on the U.S. Luge Olympic doubles team.
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Gretchen Milliken started as the Park City planning director at the beginning of February. Like many others in the community, she sees the amount of traffic as a challenge.