Minnesota kids can channel a need for downhill speed into Olympic potential next weekend.
USA Luge is playing host — along with White Castle, the original king of the slider — to a clinic at Riverside Park in Minneapolis for kids ages 9-13 on Sept. 9-10. The lugers are looking to recruit fearless youngsters to develop into world-class athletes.
“What kid doesn’t like to lay on something and go down a hill?” asked Fred Zimny, who has been U.S. Junior National Team coach for 28 years.
The free event is one of many throughout the country led by coaches and athletes from the U.S. Olympic and national luge teams. At the clinics, kids use luge sleds on wheels and learn the basics of positioning, steering and stopping. Then they make a half dozen runs down a paved hill.
In competition, one or two-person sleds have metal runners and riders steer with their calves down man-made icy runs.
Olympic prospects are real. At a similar camp here decades ago, Zimny said recruiters spotted young Tony Benshoof of White Bear Lake. Benshoof, now 42 and living in St. Paul, competed in three Olympics. He’ll be at the tryouts.
Zimny said recruiters will be looking for the rare kids who have a natural ability for luge positioning, which is hard to teach. Riders lie face up and descend feet first. The coach describes the best position as “flat and long” with the head down instead of lifted and looking to see where they’re headed. Experience is neither necessary nor expected.
“That’s the kind of kid we’re looking for is a kid that’s never been on a luge sled before,” Zimny said. “We’re looking for a kid that has good control and understands the steering. We’re looking for a kid that’s somewhat fearless as well.”
Kids who do well on the sled will be tested for overall fitness with long jumps, tossing a medicine ball and flexibility moves.
Although Zimny said it’s tough to determine at such a young age, the best body type for a luger is taller and somewhat muscular — not thin.
Those who have what it takes will be invited to the sanctioned training sites to luge on real ice. From that pool, the best kids are invited to join the development team and if they progress, they move on to the U.S. Junior National Team to train under Zimny.
“We feel it takes a good eight to 10 years to develop the skills to compete successfully internationally,” he said. From eight tryout camps across the country this summer, Zimny said they expect to invite maybe 70 kids to the next step.
Kids are asked to attend one of four sessions at Riverside Park on the access ramp from East Franklin Avenue to West River Parkway. Clinics are Sept. 9 and 10 from 9 a.m.-noon and 2-5 p.m.
Registration is required and can be done at www.teamusa.org/usa-luge/slider-search or by phone at 1-800-USA-LUGE.