IGLS, Austria - For the first time in its history, USA Luge has captured a gold medal at an "Olympic" event.
The quartet of Summer Britcher in women's singles, Tucker West in men's singles, and Ty Andersen and Pat Edmunds in doubles had the runs of their lives Tuesday down the Olympia track outside Innsbruck, Austria in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) team relay.
The victory, which closed the luge races at the YOG, gave the United States the most coveted medal in the sport.
From left, Pat Edmunds, Ty Andersen, Tucker West and Summer Britcher celebrate on the podium after winning the gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Igls, Austria.
(Photo — Fred Zimny)
"There's a lot of pressure in a team race," said Britcher, the Junior World Cup youth division overall champion last winter. "Your teammates are depending on you to do well and so you want to do well more so than in a singles race.
"It was a great run. Good coaching and good training did it. This was the best run I had all week."
Each posted the best time in their individual disciplines: Britcher 44.658 seconds; West 46.686 and Andersen with Edmunds 46.966 for a team relay total of 2 minutes, 18.310 seconds. Britcher and West have competed in recent Empire State Winter Games in Lake Placid.
The Americans were 0.4 of a second ahead of silver medalist Germany, with Austria collecting the bronze.
"My run was awesome. It was the best one I've had all week," said West, a National Sports Academy student. "It seemed like everyone had a perfect run. It all came together at the right time and we're so happy. It feels great to win not only for ourselves, but for our country."
West was 12th in the singles race on Sunday in an atmosphere that was completely new to him.
"I feel a whole lot better now," he said. "Today I put down a clean run. I had a good reaction coming out of the blocks and the rest of my run was pretty clean. I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Britcher, also 16, added, "It's been amazing to be here at the Youth Olympic Games. It's definitely been one of the best experiences of my life so far." The Glen Rock, Pa. athlete also attends NSA.
As good as they performed three powerhouses were on deck after the U.S. foursome completed their runs. Germany, Russia and Latvia each got their opportunities but fell short. Russia was fourth; Latvia sixth.
The German team, comprised of medal winners from the two previous days, was timed in 2:18.708. Austria was the bronze medalist in 2:18.863.
"We were just going for it," said Edmunds, 17. "We were gonna do our best. We didn't know how it would turn out. We told each other we'd just go out there and do the best we could.
"We didn't know how good Summer and Tucker did (ahead of us). We'd never been in a team relay race before so we hadn't seen those kinds of times. We didn't understand how well they had done."
Race day turned a bit milder, enabling the competitors to get additional grip on the ice. Yet the Igls track was in pristine condition for the YOG luge finale, and the U.S. contingent gave a virtuoso performance at the site of the first Olympic luge events in 1964.
"I could not tell by the times where we stood," said the 6-foot-7 inch Andersen, from Alpine, Utah. But I knew that Summer and Tucker would put it out there for us. Our run was nearly flawless. I loved it. I was a lot more relaxed and the lines (through the course) worked out great.
Andersen, the 17 year old front driver, and Edmunds, the back driver, had taken a YOG bronze medal 24 hours earlier in the doubles race, insinuating that it could have been better.
"The only thing we talked about after the (doubles) race was to keep it together," continued Andersen. "We knew we had it in us, and not let it get to our heads. We wanted to stay cool and relaxed."
The group was led by U.S. Development Coach Pat Anderson, a former competitor from Ironwood, Mich., now based in Lake Placid. He played as much of a role in their mental outlook as he did with their on-track preparation.
"I spoke with Tucker about having some unfinished business," said Anderson when the team had returned from the awards ceremony in Innsbruck. "When we got to the track (on the first race day) it was impressive to see all the cameras and photographers. Summer said she was glad that the women were not racing first so she could see what the event was like. But when they came out today, they were not in shock."
Meanwhile, office staff in Lake Placid tried to keep tabs on the long distance developments via cell phone and other electronic devices during the morning. By 8:45 EST, the news was official.
"The YOG has been a memorable event for our organization," said USA Luge CEO and Executive Director Ron Rossi. "With two medals, including gold, we could not be prouder of the efforts put forth by our athletes and the coaching staff. To be able to perform at a high level at such a major event speaks volumes for our team. The Junior World Cup and Junior World Championships are outstanding and worthy competitions, but when you compete in an event with an Olympic title, the aura becomes something very few get to experience. I want to congratulate our team on a job extremely well done."
As staff was digesting what occurred in the Tyrolean Alps, it was time for the team to receive the fruit of their labor at the medal ceremony in the city.
"The ceremony was unreal," reflected West afterward. "The crowds were huge. Everyone was lined up all the way back in the stadium. Everyone was watching. Having a gold medal around your neck for the USA is the coolest thing ever."
With this part of the YOG concluded, the team members were planning on seeing other events Wednesday, and in the spirit of the YOG and its menu of cultural and educational programs, the girls were planning to take a cooking class, while the boys were going to become drummers.
Thereafter, there are two days of training in Igls and then the beat continues with a trip to Winterberg, Germany for the resumption of the Junior World Cup season.