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Local Luger Makes Olympic History
By RUSTY GRAHAM - River Oaks
Examiner - January 2010
Gonzalez launches his sled down the luge track in Vancouver next month,
he’ll make Olympic history.
He probably won’t medal, but this record isn’t about
winning. It’s about competing.
The 47-year-old luger from Katy will become the first
athlete to compete in four separate decades in the Winter Olympics — Calgary
in 1988, Albertville in 1992, Salt Lake City in 2002, and Vancouver in 2010.
Gonzalez is the 40th competitor in a
field of 40. He made the field by training hard, racing hard, and with a
OK — with more than a little luck.
Gonzalez had stayed in the chase by
qualifying in all the trials. Through a complicated scoring system, he’d
stayed eligible to compete, but needed Norway, which takes winter sports so
seriously that, because it’s three qualifiers weren’t in the top 15, it
pulled the athletes out of contention.
So the one they call “Bulldog” — and
the German lugers call “Speedy” — will make Olympic history.
Gonzalez, who makes a living as a
motivational speaker and author, competes for Argentina in Olympic games.
His father moved the family here when Gonzalez was just a boy.
He’s one of five on the Argentinian
team, and the first to compete in four Olympiads for Argentina. He hopes
he’ll be able to carry the flag in the opening parade, but that’s not his
He uses the same sled he’s had for more than 20 years, and proudly points
out the dings and imperfections it exhibits.
He says a sled like his costs
between $2,000 and $3,000. “It’s like a suit from Sears,” he says. “It’s off
the rack.” Compare that to the Germans, he says, who use sleds that cost
upwards of $40,000.
“That’s from Lillihammer, he says, pointing to a
significant divot near the front of the luge Tuesday at the ice rink at
Memorial City Mall. He also notes the new suspension system he put on this
year to give the sled “a softer ride.”
Not that there’s very much soft
about a luge run. Sledders hurl down the track in a supine position, using
their calves, shoulders and peripheral vision to steer.
They can reach speeds of up to 100
mph and pull as many as six Gs on certain turns.
Some tracks are fast, while others
are more technical. Just because a track is fast doesn’t make it harder,
says Gonzales, who had to qualify on tracks in Calgary, Alberta; Innsbruck,
Austria; Altenberg, Germany; and Lillihammer, Norway.
The track in Altenberg was almost
his Waterloo, he said.
“It’s a tough, unforgiving track that I’d never been on
— before practice runs, he said. He trained for a week there, but it snowed
the whole time, and snow “acts like brakes — on a track, reducing times by
up to 10 seconds.
He knew conditions would be different during the
qualifying runs, and he was right. The sun was out, the weather was cold,
the track was icy. And difficult.
He forewent his third run on the
first day, opting to save himself for his three runs on the second day of
qualifying. He crashed on the fourth run (the first of the second day) but
made the cut on the fifth run, with 0.3 of a second to spare.
Gonzalez said he’s trained too hard
the past couple of years to stop now, so he intends to continue training
after the Vancouver games to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi,
and his family are moving to Colorado Springs, Colo., next year to put him
closer to training facilities in Utah. He said he can run his motivational
business from anywhere, and his family loves Colorado anyway.
On the top of his sled, where he
looks down as he sits upright for the takeoff, he’s taped a small piece of
paper printed with the inscription:
Here I Come!
The words come from a sports
psychologist who asked Gonzalez what he thought as he approached a
particularly vexing part of a track where he kept crashing.
“I told him I would think, ‘here it
comes,’” said Gonzalez. The psychologist told him no, you should think “here
I come,” to take the initiative.
And so it is every time Gonzalez
takes the track. Here he comes.
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