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Ruben Gonzalez

the Luge Man

Three Time Olympian        Peak-Performance Expert         Motivational  Speaker

 

 

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Local Luger Makes Olympic History


By RUSTY GRAHAM - River Oaks Examiner - January 2010



When Ruben 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 little luck.

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 decision.

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, Russia.

He 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!

Smile, Breathe,

Shoulder Roll

Have Fun!

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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