After terrible crash in Pyeongchang, Maine native aims for second place in Olympic luge

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The roller coaster design of a luge course offers a fairly accurate description of Emily Sweeney’s career path in the sport of high intensity luge.

Just as the course features high speeds, heart-wrenching curves and ever-present danger, the Portland native has made her way to the best world championship finals, Olympic qualification, competitive disappointments and horrific crashes.

Sweeney, 28, is now on rest during the World Cup recess, but will soon return to seek a second consecutive Olympic place for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games which begin on February 4.

The women’s luge competition is scheduled for February 7.

“I have no plans beyond February,” said Sweeney, who made his 2018 Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea, before crashing in his final round. “Everything is planned and focused around February, then after Beijing 2022, I will determine what my next steps are. “

Much like his ups and downs in competition since his first toboggan run at age 10, Sweeney’s current season has been a mix of lost gear, absence for two World Cup races and results. recent ones that suggest she is ready to return to the Olympic stage.

And despite the political conditions that prompted the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain to declare a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics and a resurgence of COVID-19 that has driven the National Hockey League In removing her players from the games, Sweeney is determined to compete in Beijing if she qualifies.

“I expect some people to give up out of choice and then others out of unfortunate circumstances,” she said. “At this point, I’m doing everything I can to not be in one of these unfortunate circumstances because I know I want to be there and I know I want to do my best with this opportunity.”

Sweeney, who attended school in Falmouth before moving with her family to Suffield, Conn., Became the first American to make the World Cup top-five this season, placing fifth in Altenberg, Conn. Germany, December 11.

With this performance, Sweeney took a step towards securing his Olympic spot by securing a Level A qualification despite missing the previous two World Cup weekends in Sochi, Russia.

A member of the Army’s World Class Athletes Program, she was barred from entering Russia on the basis of a US Department of Defense warrant and instead spent that time training in Germany.

“All I could think of was zeros, just knowing that I had no opportunity to get the qualification we need for the Olympic team, and also just points,” Sweeney said. , who trained without her full sledging gear after 33 boxes of sleds and other gear got stranded in China after the World Cup opening stage in Yanqing just before Thanksgiving.

Sweeney added a sixth place finish last weekend in Igls, Austria, with the World Cup tour now inactive until New Years weekend in Winterberg, Germany.

“It was wild,” she said. “I think what is unique this year is that the challenges have come from all sides. But I was able to come back and get my [Tier A] and I really showed speed so I’m excited about it looking forward to it.

Sweeney followed her older sister Megan in competitive luge, trying the sport for the first time while searching for USA Luge sliders in upstate New York.

Sweeney quickly began competing in junior and senior World Cup events and made his first attempt for an Olympic berth at the age of 16 in 2010, but lost the U.S. team’s last place in a race playoff which included her older sister – with Megan going to finish 22nd at the Vancouver Winter Games.

“My sister was really my main inspiration and the person I admired in sport,” Sweeney said. “She really showed me what could be done at a very young age, just her level of dedication and her work ethic. From there, I just tried to find my own way through the sport. “

Sweeney won the 2013 World Junior Championship but failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for the Sochi 2014 Games.

Four years later, she achieved her Olympic goal by qualifying for the United States team which competed in South Korea. But as Sweeney made her final run, she lost control of her sled on a particularly difficult turn of the track and suffered multiple injuries, including two back fractures, a severe sprained ankle and a concussion.

The accident sidelined her for six months, but Sweeney rebounded to win a bronze medal at the 2019 world championships.

COVID-19 derailed half of last season and when USA Luge athletes returned they battled their European counterparts who raced all winter. Sweeney still finished seventh at the 2021 World Championships at the end of January.

After starting off slow in this season’s World Cup debut in Yanqing, Sweeney focused on returning to China for the biggest luge event of all, knowing his family will have to watch from afar as no spectators. Foreigner will only be allowed to attend the Beijing Games due to concerns related to COVID.

“Knowing that our families won’t be there of course that will be a challenge and I think it will be a challenge for them as well,” said Sweeney. “I’m glad it looks like people are going to come together in the US, safe to say, and cheer us on from there.

“It’s going to be completely different [but in] ask is it worth it, for now? Absoutely.”


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