Massena native to compete in luge at the Olympics

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 8:50 AM EST
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MASSENA, New York (WWNY) - The Winter Olympics next month will have a local flavor to it as a Massena native will take part in the luge competition.

It’s a culmination of years of dedication to the sport.

Jonny Gustafson’s ride to the Beijing Olympics actually began 13 years ago as an 11-year-old.

He never thought a tryout at SUNY Canton would turn into an experience of a lifetime.

“Not, not a clue, I had no idea,” he said. “I didn’t even know what luge was when I went in 2008. One of my friends at the time, Brendon Broderick, he actually was going and he told me about it. It seemed like a fun little weekend activity to do so I was, like ‘oh, that sounds cool.’ I told my family about it and they said ‘ya, let’s go down to SUNY Canton and try sledding, I guess and make a little day out of it, half day out of it.’ Here we are.”

Jonny’s father Eric took his son that day to the tryout.

“Well, the way they recruit young sliders is they put the sleds on wheels and they travel to different cities around the country over the course of the summer and fall and conduct what’s known as slider searches,” Eric Gustafson said. “And Jonny was part of that process. One late summer, early fall day when he was 11 there was a slider search at SUNY Canton and that’s how he discovered the sport of luge.”

Jonny Gustafson qualified in competition for a spot on the USA luge single sled squad, a surreal feeling when he found out.

“It kind of took a little bit to actually understand it and like fully grasp it,” he said. I knew going into the race that’s what was going to happen, but at the same time I was still trying to fully focus on the race itself. You don’t want to put yourself in a different mindset, you want to keep focus on right now, so I finished my race and I was a little upset on how everything went. I wanted to be better, to run the cleanest runs, so I was kind of focused on that and slowly growing in the back of my mind was ‘you’re going to the Olympics.’ It took a little bit to fully kind of wrap my head around it, but after the race had finished, it kind of hit me.”

He almost didn’t have a chance to slide in competition. His sled was one of many that was held up in China after the competition there.

“So the whole, when we went to China, we had all of our equipment and everything there, but when we went from China to Russia, which was where the next World Cup was, there was, I’m still not entirely sure, we don’t have a clear answer on why some of the boxes that hold our equipment got left. I think 33, 34 boxes from different countries all got left in China. I was one of them, I lost my sled, all the sliding gear and everything. It happened to at least one person from every country. A lot of those athletes didn’t get to slide at all. I was fortunate enough that the Russian program, my coach, reached out to their coaches and they hooked me up with a pretty decent sled, which is not something that’s common. We treat these sleds like they’re kind of our babies. We’re working on them so much, putting so much effort into them and everything. And so the fact that the Russian Federation just gave me a sled, that was pretty decent, was incredible.”

Eventually, Gustafson got his sled back and will have it for his runs at the Olympics.

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