A Look at Luge: An Interview with Maya Chan
by S. Aleksander Black
Most people would never expect to encounter someone who participates in luge; it's an uncommon sport that is rarely featured in major media. However, Maya Chan, Adv. 101, a freshman at Northside College Prep, is a luge racer for the USA Luge National C-Team.
Luge involves one or two participants lying back on a sled, who then speed down an icy course at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. The sport is most notably seen in the Olympics. All the racers compete against the clock rather than directly against each other; the time measurements sometimes going down to one one-thousandth of a second. By flexing the legs or applying pressure from the upper body, the racer can fine-tune their movement.
Chan discovered the sport after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Her father saw an advertisement on television for a tryout event, where scouters had wheeled sleds. These scouters travel the United States with these sleds to let interested youths try them, and instead of using ice tracks, the organizers close off streets on hills to create an open path.
From there, these scouters review how each participant performed on the street course around cones and other obstacles. They also consider the candidate’s coachability. A couple hundred kids are then invited to screening camps, where the candidates are taught the sport and where they can explore potentially being involved with higher-level teams. This is the most basic stage in the USA luge team structure. Several participants are given the opportunity to go to Lake Placid, New York, where they try out beginner sleds and race on ice for the first time. Scouters evaluate the performances and select the top candidates for the Junior National “D” Team; the next level of the USA luge team structure.
Chan did not expect to start racing in luge; it was the result of gradual opportunities that she took advantage of. A few years ago, she participated in one of the luge scouting events. “I didn’t think it would go past a fun Sunday afternoon activity,” said Chan. “But then I got emailed that I was invited to a screening camp.” Not long after, she got invited to the team selections. “So I did my first year on the team. I was just kind of seeing what I could do. Last year, I got another email from them accepting me to be on the Junior ‘C’ Team.” Her goal is to make it to the Olympics in luge. “I decided that after a year I wanted to just keep going.”
Luge requires intense concentration. “That’s one thing our coaches talk to us the most about; not overthinking things,” says Chan. “Being where you are, clearing your mind before a run, and being completely focused.” The sled slides down the tracks at such fast speeds that the tiniest movements can affect the rider’s movement. The luge racer cannot see the track ahead of them very easily because of how they lie on the sled. In order to win, racers use precision steering to their advantage. “On different kinds of curves, it depends on driving in certain spots to really use the pressure to your advantage,” said Chan.
The luge training camps camps can range from one to six weeks long, and can be at several different Olympic Training Centers; Chan’s most recent training was for four weeks in Canada. “Our team flies from all over the United States to places in Utah or Lake Placid, stay at Olympic Training Centers, and train.” A large part of these camps is actual racing, but they also involve strength training to ensure the riders can withstand the high G-forces of making turns at such high speeds. Balancing these long training camps with schoolwork is no small feat. “[Luge] is a lot of time dedication. I try to stay in communication with my teachers as much as possible via emails and Google Classroom. Thankfully, all my teachers this year have been super supportive. I just try to learn the things I need to learn; I sometimes have to do it online, but it usually works out.”
Luge athletes often consider luge enticing because of the raw speed. “I really like how fast and how much rhythm there is to it,” said Chan. “We can go up to 70 miles per hour, and some teammates even go up to 80 miles per hour. It’s really smooth, and almost calming. It’s all based around the focus and being in the moment.”
If you want to check out luge competitions, keep your eyes peeled for online replays of the luge competitions taking place in the 2018 Winter Olympics.