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Robert Sullivan
January 25, 1988
A new selection process saved the day for sliders at the U.S. Olympic trials
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January 25, 1988

Sometimes You Just Can't Luge

A new selection process saved the day for sliders at the U.S. Olympic trials

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At the U.S. Olympic luge trials in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week, people were talking crazy. They said the U.S. could win a medal in Calgary. In luge. They really said that. They said Bonny Warner could win a medal. They said Duncan Kennedy could win one. They said Miroslav Zajonc and Tim Nardiello might win a medal in the doubles.

Then, suddenly, silence.

During a singles training run, Zajonc lost control of his sled coming out of Turn 12 and flew high on the track, smashing into the restraining boards. "I was the first one to get to him," says Nardiello. "I pulled off his bootie. His heel was shattered. I knew we were done." Zajonc, a 27-year-old Czechoslovakian defector, was rushed to Lake Placid Memorial Hospital and his right leg put in a cast from toes to knee.

During competition last Tuesday, Kennedy, one of four national team members who live in Lake Placid, caught his right hand on something—perhaps a jagged piece of ice or a nail. At the hospital he got 12 stitches to repair a torn extensor tendon and a dozen to close the wound. Kennedy, too, received a cast and was out of the trials.

Although the U.S. men's medal prospects have been injured, the luge team is hoping that medical miracles can lead to miracles on the track.

Meanwhile, back at the luge run....

Tearing of hair, gnashing of teeth? Not at all. Things remained oddly placid in Placid. Credit the Terwillegarian Theorem: If at first you don't succeed, don't go home—a 1986 change in the guidelines may get you a place on the team. The theorem is named for Erica Terwillegar, who in 1983 was the top U.S. slider; she won the North American championship and finished fifth at the worlds. In 1984 she had a rotten week during the Olympic trials and missed making the team. Everyone said it was darned hard cheese, but what could you do?

Two years ago the U.S. Luge Association came up with an answer. "We needed discretionary picks," says Mary Ellen Fletcher, the national team's manager. "The USOC [ U.S. Olympic Committee] doesn't like discretion, because it can lead to favoritism. But we have a unique situation here."

Lake Placid has the only luge run in the U.S., and the USLA felt it couldn't ask an Olympic prospect to invest four long years in training in the Adirondack village and then not make the team because he or she suffered a Terwillegarian week. The USOC compromised: The two fastest men and women would make the singles team, and USLA officials could pick an additional man and woman; the fastest men's doubles team would go to the Games, and a second team could be selected.

By midweek of the '88 trials the men's discretionary singles spot belonged to Kennedy. Although he'll wear his cast until the end of January, "I'll be back on a sled before the Games," he says.

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