Parkite returns to sliding track
November 6, 2015
Since winning a gold medal in doubles luge at the 2013 Norton Junior National Championships, Park City native Anthony Espinoza has been noticeably absent from the U.S. luge scene. It’s been two seasons since the 22-year-old has competed on a national stage.
That absence will come to an end this weekend as Espinoza competes at the U.S. National Championships at the Utah Olympic Park Saturday and Sunday.
Espinoza’s absence from competition wasn’t due to injury, he said. Rather, he couldn’t find anyone to slide with.
"My former partner actually quit to go on his [LDS] mission, so I was kind of left in an awkward spot of not having a partner and not being good enough at singles to race onto the World Cup team," he said. "I’ve been kind of laying low, under the radar, and training stateside. They finally found me a new top man for doubles, so I teamed up with him and things are going well."
Espinoza didn’t have to look far for his new teammate, Jake Hyrns. In fact, he didn’t even have to step outside his front door.
"First off, we’re best friends," he said. "I’ve lived with the guy — we’re roommates. We’ve been best friends for as long as I can remember and the way we function works really well together."
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Hyrns is the top man in the doubles setup. Espinoza explained the differences between each sled position.
"The top man, which is the front man and the guy that you see, is usually the larger of the two," he said. "That’s for aerodynamic purposes. He does most of the steering because he’s the one who can actually see. The bottom man is in full contact with the sled, so he does more of the minor steering and smooths out the profile [of the sled] and the transitions. He handles a lot of the ‘feel’ aspects of the sliding. He can do steering, but not as much because he can’t see."
Returning to the ice, Espinoza said he’s picked up right where he left off on some things and has had to work hard at others.
"The easiest thing I’ve found to pick back up on is just the passion, the enjoyment of the sport — how fun it is and the people I get to be around all the time and travel with," he said. "The most difficult part is getting back in that race mentality where it’s always high-tension and there’s always pressure. There’s a lot resting on your performance. That’s still coming back to me."
Hyrns and Espinoza are very familiar with the Park City track and are happy to be sliding on it this week. But Espinoza said there are still some trouble spots they’re trying to fix.
"We’ve been having trouble with the bottom section of the track this week," he said. "We’re hoping to diagnose that, improve on it and hopefully get it ready for the race. The top part of the track has been going clean. It takes a fast start — you want to start strong to keep it going down the hill. Once we dial in that bottom section, we’re going to be flying."
Not much is riding on this weekend’s World Cup team selection races for Espinoza and his partner, but he said it’s important to him to have a strong showing.
"We have three doubles teams this year and, luckily for us, they’re taking all three doubles teams to have a wider range of competition for the world circuit," he said. "It’s kind of an easy process, but we want to make a point and prove that we’re the top team and show that we’re ready to go."
Similarly, Espinoza said winning a national title on Sunday would be nice, but it’s more about making a statement.
"It comes back to proving a point," he said. "If I can win a national title, it just shows the other guys who’s boss and who’s ready to play. We’re hoping to up the competition of all doubles teams so that we’re ready to support Team USA."
Then, at the opening World Cup in Innsbruck/Igls, Austria, and beyond, Hyrns and Espinoza will focus on gaining international experience.
"This is our first year sliding together for the World Cup circuit, so our main goal is just to have clean, consistent runs and get down the hill safely," he said. "If we get a medal or podium, it’ll be nice. We started this year in the hopes of getting a few years under our belts going into the  Olympics so we’re dialed in and have each other figured out."
He’ll have a chance to gain some valuable experience on home ice in December, when the World Cup comes to Lake Placid (Dec. 4-5) and Park City (Dec. 11-12).
"Having back-to-back World Cups is actually super exciting for our sport," he said. "It doesn’t happen very often that we get both Lake Placid and Park City. When that happens, we try to take advantage of the home track and show the other countries that we can slide at our home tracks and this is where we’re the best."
Saturday’s team selection races run from 5-6 p.m. at the Utah Olympic Park. Sunday’s national title finals begin at 11 a.m.
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