Women’s doubles luge, scheduled for Olympic inclusion, debuts in Park City
December 9, 2018
Doubles luge is growing. The sport's governing body and the International Olympic Committee are trying to establish women's doubles luge in an effort to achieve gender parity in the sport, and Park City is playing a special role in the sport's creation.
Last season, USA Luge held a women's doubles luge camp at Park City's Utah Olympic Park as part of the organization's search for the sliders with the right stuff.
USA Luge found Maya Chan, 15, and Reannyn Weiler, 16; two sliders with two years of individual experience apiece, who were, literally and figuratively, a good fit.
For one thing, they seem to share a temperament. Each describes the other as easygoing and funny, and though they are from different parts of the U.S. — Weiler is from Whitesboro, New York, while Chan is from Chicago — they get along quite well.
They also fit on the sled together, with Chan being taller and Weiler shorter.
Weiler and Chan became the U.S.'s's first women's doubles team to compete in a junior World Cup on Wednesday, when the two took to the ice at the Utah Olympic Park for the International Luge Federation Junior World Cup.
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"She's a supportive bottom person," Chan quipped of Weiler after racing at the UOP on Wednesday. "Glad she doesn't criticize me too hard."
In doubles luge, athletes are stacked on top of each other, with the bigger person taking the front position — Chan, in this case — and laying on top of the rear luger — Weiler. Like singles luge, the fastest team down the track over two runs is deemed the winner.
"There's a lot of body positioning involved, and it's a complete different kind of sliding," said Robert Fegg, Team USA's junior national team head coach.
He said the addition of a second slider makes the luge's center of gravity much higher, and makes tipping easier.
"Then if you've never done it, you lie on a wobbly person, and all of a sudden you're not solid in the sled anymore," he said. "You have to learn to wrap those shoulders down around the bottom girl's body to make sure you have the stability."
Chan and Weiler are still working out the logistics. Their success relies on a lot of coordination, from the top of the run to the bottom, beginning with the strokes they use to gain speed at the top of the hill, called paddling.
"Our start is a huge difference," Weiler said, comparing singles luge to doubles. "Being on the bottom, I have to follow (Chan's) paddles, and since our arm lengths are very different … I have to follow her lead."
The two have to be perfectly synchronized as they reach with spiked gloves to grip the ice and pull their luge up to speed in the opening meters of the run. Otherwise they will hit each other, or pull the luge in different directions.
Chan and Weiler said they are enjoying being a part of something new, pointing out that while doubles luge hasn't been a gender-specific sport under the International Luge Federation, women have been noticeably absent from the top levels of competition.
"Normally it doesn't work out," Chan said. "Girls are technically allowed to be in it, but because of weight and strength and stuff, they're usually not competitive with the boys."
But if everything goes to plan, Chan and Weiler could be two of the first women to reach the World Cup, World Championship or Olympic level of the sport. Women's doubles is currently on the program for the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland, and is tentatively being considered for the Olympics as soon as 2022.
Fegg said the IOC shouldn't rush the sport though, adding that building a whole discipline in four years — in time for a 2022 debut in Beijing — is "impossible." More likely, spectators will be able to watch women's doubles luge at the 2026 Winter Games, which is the date Fegg keeps in mind while coaching.
"I think that might happen," he said of 2026. "I hope not, to be honest, because it just takes time to make it safe and develop the discipline, but the idea of it is not the worst. As long as the equipment is possible to be built and the safety is guaranteed for the athletes at a young age, I think it's a fine move."
Chan and Weiler had only the Czech Republic and Canada to compete against at the UOP, and they took second in their opening race with a time of 1 minute, 26.48 seconds. Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless of Canada won with a time of 1:26.15, and Marketa Novakova and Anna Vejdelkova of the Czech Republic came in third with a time of 1:27.02.
For Chan, Weiler and the discipline of doubles luge, it's just the beginning.
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