Ridgefield's Tucker West ready for his second Winter Games
He hopes to come back with a medal in the luge
In 2002, Tucker West got hooked on the Olympics.
He was 6 years old.
Fast forward to 2018, and here is West, now 22 and gearing up for his second tour of the Winter Olympics. When the Games of the XXIII Winter Olympics open on Friday, West will march into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea with the rest of the athletes from the United States. For certain, it will be an emotional time.
"It gives me goosebumps to think that I am an Olympian," West said by phone recently from Lillehammer, Norway. "But it really doesn't hit you until the opening ceremonies. That will be a great, surreal moment."
Just as soon as the stadium lights go dark from the spectacle of that opening night, it will be time for West to go to work. His Olympic speciality, the luge, is one of the first events up in these games. He will make four runs, two on Saturday, two on Sunday, and hopes to be good enough to be standing atop the medal podium when it's all over.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. To understand how West, who studied at Union College, got his love for the small sled that flies down a track at breakneck speed, you have to return to that day in 2002 when West and his dad, Brett, were watching the Salt Lake City games on television at the family home in Ridgefield, Conn.
As Brett West tells it, sports had never been a big draw to the household, which also includes his wife, Pam, and Tucker's two younger sisters.
The Olympics? Different story.
"Our lives stop for two weeks when the Olympics are on," Brett West said by cellphone from Connecticut. "We don't watch the NBA or the NFL, but we are big fans of the Olympics."
Back in 2002, the television was on and little Tucker was watching. His dad, matter-of-factly, asked him what event interested him. After a while, Tucker pointed to the television when the luge event came on. To him, luge looked like taking a sled out for a spin down a snow-covered hill. And that, to Tucker, was nothing but fun.
His father quickly realized the love his son had for the sport and built a wooden luge track in their large backyard. It is still there today, measuring about 800 feet.
"I was always kind of a speed demon when I was a kid," Tucker West said. "Sledding wasn't fast enough; I thought luge was really cool."
So cool that he never lost interest as he grew older. It also helped that he was good.
Tucker West began training in Lake Placid, and he and his 50-pound sled got faster as the years went by.
At the 2014 Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, he became the youngest man ever to represent the United States in luge. He was 18. Maybe not much was expected then and he finished 22nd. He and his dad did make a stir in those games, though.
Brett West, who grew up in Queensbury and owns a summer home on Lake George, went on the "Today" show during the Sochi games and told the world that his son was shy and "very single," and encouraged girls to reach out to him on social media. Thousands of messages poured in. Prom invites. Wedding proposals. And all of a sudden, the U.S. had an Olympian everyone — well, most women anyway — was rooting for.
Tucker West laughs about the memory now. So does his dad.
Tucker West chose to study at Union because the school is on trimesters and that is what he would need if he wanted to go to school and do his luge training. Brett West said his son applied to two schools with trimesters: Dartmouth and Union. Union accepted Tucker; Dartmouth did not. He would go to school in the spring trimester and train the other two.
The first year Tucker West was at Union, the Dutchmen hockey team won the NCAA Division I hockey championship.
"That was a lot of fun," Tucker West said. "I had a blast at Union."
He will not be returning to Union after the Olympics.
Now, his emphasis is on Pyeongchang. He hopes to be coming back to the States with a medal. He'll have four runs over the 1,300 meter track, lying on his back in the sled and getting it cranked up to upwards of 90 miles per hour.
"You never want to guess how you are going to do," Tucker West said. "You never know how you are going to feel or how the equipment will be running. I hope I have the four best runs of my life."
Brett West will be in South Korea to cheer his son on, along with his wife and other family members.
He will yell just as loud as he did in Russia, but this time there might be more expectations for a medal.
"Going to the first Olympics with him was the highlight of our lives," Brett West said. "Getting there was the prize. This time, we know he is in the mix. It's not just exciting to be going to the Olympics, it's nerve-racking. I don't know how I am going to be able to stand it."
In the current International Luge Federation standings, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound West is ranked seventh in the world in singles. In 2014, it would have been a surprise if he had won a medal. This year? Not so much.
"Of course there is pressure," Tucker West said. "I would be lying if I said I didn't think about winning. Every athlete at the Olympics wants to have a gold medal put around his or her neck. It's not something you expect, but it's something you hope for."
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