USA Luge slides into Schuylerville

28 Jun

By ALEX MATTHEWS — | Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 12:31 am

SCHUYLERVILLE — Fourteen-year-old Nikolaus Steg said his teachers never really understood where he was off to.

PHOTO COURTESY FRED ZIMNY -- Schuylerville freshman Nikolaus Steg helps an elementary student down a luge ramp outside Schuylerville Elementary School on June 21. A member of the U.S. junior development team, Steg, 14, helped bring USA Luge to the school for a two-day 'Slider Search' gear for students in grades 4 through 6. p

The Schuylerville freshman would ask for packets of homework in advance. After long weekends of training in Lake Placid or weeks away in Park City, Utah, or Calgary, Alberta, he’d be back in class telling his classmates about luge.

Many couldn’t picture him soaring down an ice track while laying face up and feet first on a sled, and others couldn’t pronounce the sport’s name.

With the cooperation of the Schuylerville Elementary School and its gym teachers, Steg was able to share luge with them rather than explain it.

An incoming high school sophomore with dreams of becoming an Olympian, he brought USA Luge and its “Slider Search” to Schuylerville last week. With the help of his U.S. junior development team coach, Fred Zimny, Steg and another 14-year-old on Lake Placid’s ‘D’ team put on a two-day demonstration class last week.

For nearly five hours each day, he and Hannah Miller, of Rome, N.Y., assisted students in grades four through six as they tried the sport in gym class. Last Tuesday in the school parking lot, they led individuals up a 30-foot aluminum ramp and briefed each before sending them down.

Addressing all the students before each session, Zimny said to lay flat with your head down and toes pointed.

“You do want to lift your head just a little bit so you can see where you’re going,” he said inside the gym on a rainy Wednesday. “Right before the pads (on the other side of the room), put your feet on the floor.”

The students listened for the most part, eagerly circulating through and dragging the wheeled sleds back to the USA Luge ramp, which was outside under a tent and pointed in through open doors. According to Zimny, it was the first time they had tried the indoor setup and it worked.

It was also the first time USA Luge’s East Coast team in Lake Placid had brought its Slider Search to a school. (There is a West Coast development team in Park City at the only other Olympic luge track in the nation).

Zimny, who has taught luge for 20 years as a recruitment, development and national coach at the Olympic level, said the team was looking to attract youngsters, particularly those aged 11 to 14.

“We’re hoping to capitalize on putting 440 kids down the start ramp in the last two days (at Schuylerville) to maybe getting a dozen of them up to Lake Placid and getting them involved in the program,” Zimny said.

“To put a kid on a sled for the first time and then maybe 12 years down the road, see them make an Olympic team, that’s what it’s all about.”

Zimny said children are recruited at a young age to give them enough time to develop into an experienced, safe and competitive racer in what’s known as the fastest sport on ice. With the most aerodynamic sled and positioning, it beats out bobsled and skeleton.

“You do have to be fearless of course … (but) you really need to be smooth, controlled,” he said. “The whole idea of going fast on a luge sled is to be relaxed, and to be relaxed at 90 miles an hour isn’t easy.”

For Steg, whose father, Nik, brought him to his first Slider Search two years ago, the adrenaline hooked him. After the search, he was invited to a screening camp and later asked to be one of 15 members on the national development team.

This year at the Empire State Games, Steg placed third, and at the youth national championship, he was eighth.

Now up to the third-highest start, the Olympic women’s start, Steg said he reached 70 miles per hour.

“We work our way up and every step gets faster and more technical,” he said. “When you’re up at the handles and you have 30 seconds to go and you know you’re going to be doing 50, 60, 70 miles an hour plus going down the track with nothing but basically a helmet on, it’s pretty fun.”

Steg said he was happy to spend his time with the elementary students who tried it. Zimny explained that the searches were important to extend the sport’s reach and show parents that it’s not that dangerous.

According to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, more curling competitors were injured in the 2010 Olympics than lugers, by a ratio of 4 percent to 2 percent of all athletes.

“When (parents) see it and they see what these kids are doing, then they understand that it’s not this crazy sport,” Zimny said.

Active Advice

Nikolaus Steg, III, of Saratoga Springs got his son, Nikolaus, interested in luge at age 12. He explained how he became involved and eventually selected to the U.S. junior national development team.

* First, find a “Slider Search.” Fred Zimny, Lake Placid’s development team coach and the head of recruitment for USA Luge, plans to host free “learn to luge” Thursday night sessions in Lake Placid for boys and girls ages 8-13. No experience is necessary and participants receive a T-shirt. Call 523-2071 ext. 105 to register.

* Do your best and have fun. If you have natural talent and control of the sled, as well as a body type best for luge (Zimny said big, strong kids usually do well), then you could be invited to a screening camp. There, you could be asked to join the development team. If not, there are club and recreational opportunities to keep trying or * Fourteen-year-old Nikolaus is one of 15 members on the national team. He participates in about six camps a year, each a couple of weeks long, and spends most weekends training in Lake Placid.

* Don’t force it. “We try to keep him involved,” said Steg, III, about his son, who plays three instruments in Schuylerville’s high school, prep and jazz bands. “But you can’t make a kid go down the track.”

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