Matt Mortensen (R.) said he didn't have Olympic dreams until he started luging at the age of 10. Credit: USA Luge
Matt Mortensen, 28, had no idea what luge was until he showed up for a tryout at the age of 10.
"My dad works for Verizon and at the time, they were the main sponsor of the sport, so they'd been doing radio ads and posting flyers," he explained. "He asked my brothers and me if we wanted to go to the tryouts - just for fun."
Mortensen, who is from Huntington Station, N.Y., went with his family to SUNY College at Old Westbury for a tryout.
"We really just showed up and took instructions from people that were there," he said. "There were wheeled luge sleds and the guys there were all former athletes or current athletes who taught us how to steer … By the end of the day, you're going in and out of cones on the road and doing agility tests."
Mortensen said he immediately took a liking to the sport and he admired the athletes he met at the tryouts. "These guys had been to the Olympics and it really fascinated me," he said. "I knew that the wheeled portion of it was just the first part and I really wanted to make it on the ice." Once he tried luging on ice, he was "pretty much hooked," he said.
The third time was a charm for Mortensen, who got cut the first two tryouts from the junior national luge team, but said the rejections didn't bother him.
"I hadn't had too much invested in the sport by then - I did a wheeled clinic a couple of hours on Saturdays and it was just a lot of fun for me to do," he said.
Surprisingly, Mortensen said he did not have Olympic ambitions until he started luging. "I played soccer, baseball and basketball but I never had any thoughts about the Olympics until I came in contact with the sport and started competing internationally," he said. "Then the Olympics became the only thing I ever wanted."
Mortensen narrowly missed making the 2010 Olympics. "We lost by just a tenth of a second," he said. "That was a heartbreaker." This was his third attempt to make it to the games.
"It was really relieving to know I finally accomplished something I've been trying to do for a long time," he said. "My teammates and I worked hard the past couple of years to prepare and I feel that we're very ready for it."