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Ticket to slide

Singles slider Bengt Walden pushes off on the UOP track.
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The action on the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) track continues this week as the U.S. national luge team practices for World Cup competition. The team has been in Park City since Wednesday, sliding in rain, shine and even some snow.

The Park City track served as sort of a transition for the team between the long, technical track in Lake Placid, N.Y. and the newly-built Vancouver, Canada track, which the team will practice on in the coming week.

"We came here because the track is fast and similar to Vancouver’s," explained female slider Ashley Walden.

Built more like a giant slalom run than a luge track, the Vancouver track is said to be long, steep, narrow, winding and most importantly, fast. Luge already ranks as the fastest sport on ice, with top sliders going at speeds over 80 mile per hour on most days, but athletes report that in Vancouver those speeds can reach as much as100 miles per hour. Last year, the best sliders in America got to preview the track, but for many of the national team members, this will be their fist time, so everyone is little bit nervous. At the UOP, the women were even sliding from the men’s start at the top of the track to make their runs faster. Slider Jayson Terdiman said that no matter how many runs they take in Park City, they still won’t be totally prepared for Vancouver.

"It’s still going to be uncomfortable," he said.

The team has been on the ice preparing for World Cup competition since the beginning of October and will continue training until the first World Cup stop in Austria at the beginning of December. Unlike the bobsled and skeleton team which has had a flurry of competitions, the luge team has only held team trials and spent the rest of its time preparing for the season. Walden said that all the training has been very beneficial, but she is getting the urge to start competing.

"It’s that time where you are sick of training and ready to start racing," she said.

Joining Walden were fellow female sliders, Erin Hamlin, Julia Clukey and locally trained Kate Hansen. For the men are singles sliders Tony Benshoof, Ashley’s husband, Bengt Walden, and Robby Huerbin as well as doubles sliders Mark Grimmette and Brian, Christian Niccum and Dan Joye Martin and Chris Mazdzer and Terdiman.

Mazdzer and Terdiman are new to the team this year. The two have dominated the Junior Luge scene for years, but now that they are entering their 20s, it’s time to move up. The duo, who will likely be the youngest on the World Cup circuit, beat out Preston Griffall and Matt Mortensen for one of the two doubles luge World Cup spots. Mazdzer, a jack of all sleds, will also compete as a single slider.

"I find it a challenge," he said with a grin.

The year should be challenging for the two rookies. They realize that they will no longer be at the top of the rankings and are just hoping to soak up as much experience as they can and try to get a top 10 finish during the season.

"We haven’t competed yet, but we’re still optimistic," Terdiman said. "We have the skills to potentially do well."

"Top 10 will be gold in my book," adds Mazdzer.

They have been trying to gain as much knowledge as possible from long-time doubles athletes Grimmette and Martin. The Olympians have been gracious enough to share tips with the young sliders.

"They have so much experience," Terdiman said. "Its great being able to build off of that."

"It will take a couple of years to get to that level. It’s a natural progression," Mazdzer said.

After some ups and downs last year, Benshoof said that both he and the team are in great shape this season. Benshoof had a shoulder and back injury that kept him off of the international podium for much of last year, and put him in 7th place overall at the World Championships. Now, he feels like he’s back on track. He wants to consistently finish in the top 10 this year and, with just one year before the Olympics, all of the team is feeling the pressure to perform well. Benshoof said that the week went well in Park City, although the snowstorm early this week did add some challenges. Benshoof said the ice was slower and a bit inconsistent, but team still continued twice-daily runs down the track.

The week also served as an opportunity for the team to test equipment, trying out different runners and learning how they steer and react.

"There’s different equipment for different conditions," Benshoof said.

Mazdzer said that at this time of the season, there is also some testing of the body. Much time is spent getting comfortable on the sled, working on reaction times and brushing up on fundamental skills.

This is the last time this season the national team will be on the Park City track. Budgetary cuts forced a decision between a World Cup in Park City or Turin, Italy, and with most luge athletes hailing from Europe, the decision was made for Italy.


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