By Jason KUROSU
Despite that Olympian Luger Kate Hansen hails from La Cañada, the sport does not generally strike many as a Californian pastime.
Nonetheless, the United States Luge Association made its first venture to California in over a decade this past Saturday, turning La Cañada’s Michigan Hill into a veritable luge course. Utilizing the hill’s downward slope (and a number of bales of hay donated by the Flintridge Riding Club), USA Luge transformed the one block expanse of La Cañada into a site worthy of a rare adult luge training course.
USA Luge Recruitment and Development Coach Fred Zimny said the luge tour or “slider search” is generally made to target potential young talent for the Winter Olympic Games.
“Seven of the 10 athletes that were on the Olympic team in Sochi with Kate started within the program that we’re doing here for kids,” said Zimny.
The Lake Placid, New York based association rarely makes trips out to the west coast. The stop in California was the fourth of a seven-city tour, which had previously made stops in New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago. The La Cañada stop, however, was the only adult training session.
Kids and adults made their way to Michigan Hill to see how they would fare bobbing and weaving (if possible) through a series of cones set up along the hillside. USA Luge provided helmets, luge sleds and a brief training session on the fundamentals: proper position on the sled, steering and braking.
The sleds used were fitted with wheels in order to slide on concrete, but were otherwise “the real deal,” said Zimny.
The volunteer lugers went through three runs after receiving their training, the second run higher up the hill than the first, and then a timed run for the third and final attempt.
Some met the challenge with trepidation, while many others whooped and hollered their way down the hill as family members and friends cheered them on from the sidelines. Hansen helped with the runs, giving some riders the necessary propulsion to speed down, as many reached speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
After everyone tried their hand at sledding, Hansen took a sled from the very peak of the hill to the bottom, riding with just a bit more composure than most of the other lugers.
Kathie Simmons of La Cañada said her first luge experience was “very exciting,” though she noted her first run was smoother than her second. This did not deter her from participating in the timed third run.
Despite luge being a winter sport, Bent Hansen, Kate’s uncle, wondered about the potential for further interest out west.
“It’s more popular in colder places, but you’d think with all the skateboarding and surfing out here, that California would be a great place to turn out fantastic athletes for this,” he said.
Hansen recalled viewing parties he held at his restaurant, Los Gringos Locos, where friends and neighbors would gather to watch Kate’s Olympic run. Now, Hansen was also proud to see Kate bringing luge back home for those same La Cañada natives who cheered her on just months before.