Park City’s Ashley Farquharson slides into Olympics
The 22-year-old Parkite excited and nervous for first trip to the Games
Flying down steep, icy slopes alone, feet-first at high speeds is not for the faint of heart. There are no brakes. There are no airbags. Just you, the ice and some nasty hairpin turns.
To the average viewer, luge athletes look like they have a few screws loose. It helped then that Park City’s Ashley Farquharson was just a student at Ecker Hill Middle School when she first tried luge through the Youth Sports Alliance. At that age, there were no thoughts about how one bad turn could end in a hospital trip.
“I don’t even remember being nervous, like I feel like at that age you have no fear,” Farquharson said. “They send me down, and all I really remember from my first run ever was just so much wind in my face, coming out of the last curve and being like, ‘Let’s go again, come on.’ It was just like the best sledding hill ever, in my mind.”
Now, Farquharson tackles the toughest luge tracks across the world. The 22-year-old Parkite is less than two weeks away from making her Olympic debut in Beijing and couldn’t be more excited.
“I’m excited, but I’m nervous,” she said. “There’s still so much more to do before we actually compete, feels like it’s never going to get here.”
She’s nervous about the tests that need to be done, the documents that need to be checked and how the first day of training at the Olympics will be about 10 days since the last time she was on the ice. Still, the thrill of knowing she’ll be competing on the world’s biggest stage outweighs the anxiety.
The track in Yanqing that will host the luge event is also the site of some of Farquharson’s best racing in her career. Yanqing hosted the first World Cup race of the season back in November, which also served as a test event for the Olympics. She finished eighth, which tied her best World Cup finish so far, and qualified as one of the U.S. members on the team relay that weekend.
The event consists of one woman, one man and one doubles pair competing as one team. The American team of herself, Tucker West and the doubles partnership of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman captured the silver medal for Farquharson’s first-ever World Cup medal. It’s safe to say that kind of track record is reassuring heading into the Games.
“It definitely puts a little bit more stability in my brain of like, ‘OK, yeah, you’ve been here, you understand it, you can get down,'” she said. “But at the same time, I want to go into the Olympics with no expectations of myself other than putting together four solid runs that I can be proud of and be like, ‘Yes, that was a good showing for me.'”
Farquharson’s trip to the Olympics is the payoff for a stressful, ultra-competitive season for American lugers. The United States is sending three athletes, but one of them, Summer Britcher, wrapped up her spot earlier this month after her sixth-place result at last year’s world championships and a fifth-place finish at a World Cup event in Winterberg, Germany, leaving just two spots up for grabs. That kind of tight competition left Farquharson in a tough position.
“It didn’t matter how well you did in a race or like what sort of points that earned you, it always came back down to — OK, but how soon before my teammate beats me out for my Olympic spot,” Farquharson said. “Even on regular seasons that weren’t as dramatic as this one, you still had your teammates behind you. And of course, they’re always cheering for you, even in this situation. But now it’s like, I want you to do really well, but I don’t necessarily want you to do better than me this time.”
Farquharson said she secured her highly coveted spot in Beijing on Jan. 7. Farquharson had just competed in the Nations Cup, which serves as a selection race for the World Cup. She was fighting with fellow Parkite and longtime friend Brittney Arndt to go to the Games. After a poor run, Farquharson was nervous about not qualifying for the next World Cup event. And then Arndt had an even worse result.
“When I saw that, I was like, ‘Man, now we’re both out of the World Cup,'” she said. “And then I was like, ‘But, I’m in the Olympics now.’ That was kind of crazy.”
In the midst of a difficult, high-pressure season, Farquharson finishing above someone she knew so well — and who started luge on the exact same day — made it even tougher.
“It sucked, any way you slice it,” she said. “We’ve been together since Day 1, and now we’re at this place where only one of us can continue, and that’s a strange feeling. It’s one that I didn’t think I would ever see. But she’s amazing, she’s been very supportive.”
Making it to the Olympics became a serious goal for Farquharson when she was named to the junior national team at 15. In 2017, she graduated from high school, made it onto the Olympic selection pool for the 2018 Olympics and moved to Lake Placid, New York, to train. While she didn’t make the cut for Pyeongchang that year, she set her sights on Beijing.
When she posted on social media that she was officially going to the Olympics, the outpouring of support was overwhelming. Messages from people she’s met from over the years gave her words of encouragement.
“Even high school friends were being like, ‘I remember when you started, and I can’t believe it’s finally happening,’ so that was a little bit surreal,” she said. “I was getting messages from these people that I had just met from over the years, and it was like, ‘I can’t believe that you finally made it, congratulations!'”
At that moment, those Olympic dreams finally felt like reality.
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