Park City resident Roan Thomas wins Youth National Luge Championships
Over the weekend, seven Park City athletes traveled to the Youth National Luge Championships in Lake Placid, New York. Roan Thomas, 13, earned the title of national champion after he beat out his Eastern Development Team competitors and took first overall in the Youth B division.
Roan’s father, Michael Thomas, describes his son as soft-spoken, and said when he won it was “hard for us to get him to crack a smile.”
According to Michael, Roan, who competes for Wasatch Luge Club, has been sliding since he was 9 and has been coached by Jon Owen since he was in the third grade.
When the Thomases moved to Park City, they saw the sliders practicing at the Utah Olympic Park and thought it would be fun to try luge.
“It just comes from, I grew up in Madison (Wisconsin), I was surrounded by hockey, ski jumping, and Eric Heiden was huge for us,” Michael said, referring to the speed skater who won five gold medals at the 1980 Olympics. “The Winter Olympics have always been a fascination. To be able to grow up in the midst of Olympics … it’s pretty inspiring, and it was all him, he got on the sled and he loved it. It scares the crap out of my wife.”
It was Roan’s second time going to the Youth National Luge Championships, but he said this was his best result.
Each competitor raced two runs each day on the historic Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run, competing for a daily winner position and an overall position.
“The track’s fun,” Roan said. “It’s very different from the one here. Lots of people describe it as different from all the other tracks in the world.”
He said the track has a few odd sections which set it apart, including a subtle chicane that can be ridden straight through if the slider has chosen a perfect line.
“For me, Curve 12 was probably (the hardest), because it’s a weird driving area, but once you get it, it’s really easy,” he said. “Basically it’s not that big of a curve. … You come out of (Curve) 11 with a pretty straight line, but you’re only really going to start getting on the curve halfway into the curve, so you want to drive to get yourself through it.”
Roan placed first on the first day of racing, beating 13 other sliders for the spot.
“It was really nice,” he said. “I slept well but it was also, you kind of get nervous knowing you have to work just as hard tomorrow.”
He took second on Sunday, but won the overall title for his four aggregate runs.
Nationals marked Roan’s final year competing at the Youth B level, and he is hoping to move up to Youth A next season. That means not only will he be at the bottom of an age bracket that extends up to 18-year-olds, but he will move up the course to a higher start position.
“In luge, you progress farther up the track,” Michael said. “The men’s start — that’s the ultimate goal. So his brother, who is 20 months older, is racing from start three, Roan is racing from start four. It’s a learned sport, you don’t jump on a sled from start one.”
Roan said he looks forward to sliding against tougher competition, adding that racing against the older athletes will be good experience.
But for now, he’s basking in his new title as a national champion, albeit in a very low-key way.
Will his family have a big celebration?
“Not really,” he said. “I think we’ll just hang out.”
Park City Mountain Resort is scheduled to start limited summer operations on Saturday, including the operation of PayDay lift for hikers and bikers.