For Baltimore-Born Olympic Luger Summer Britcher, New Mindset Heading Into Beijing

How do kids in the Baltimore area tend to first become interested in snowboarding, skiing, tubing and the like?

Usually, they go to a ski resort in Pennsylvania and try them all out.

Turns out, the story was similar for an Olympian. Baltimore-born Summer Britcher, who recently clinched a spot on her third U.S. Olympic luge team, became interested in luging at the age of 11 when she and her family took a trip to Liberty Mountain Resort in Fairfield, Pa. She remembers trying out a sledding course, which featured packed-down snow, banked curves and a professional timing system.

Apparently, Britcher was competitive from a young age.

“It was a ton of fun, but I guess I was just this little jerk — that’s how I think of it now, looking back,” Britcher said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 6. “I was like 11 years old and I was just trying so hard to beat my older brothers. I was being so competitive, which, looking back, I’m like, ‘Wow, that was probably just really annoying trying so hard to beat them.'”

But Britcher’s attitude was certainly not seen as a negative for those on hand.

“One of the USA Luge staff members there talked to my parents and said, ‘Hey, I think your daughter shows some promise. You should consider sending her up to Lake Placid, New York, where we have a real luge track and she can try out for the team. There’s a tryout camp in a couple months for kids of her age. She’ll go for a week and train on this track, train with the real coach of the development team and maybe get selected to the development team,'” Britcher recalled.

It worked out, and three Olympics later, Britcher is still at it. She’s got plenty of connections to Baltimore despite growing up in Glen Rock, Pa. Her father is a battalion chief for the Baltimore City Fire Department. Her mother and one of her brothers went to the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore. She’s a fan of the Orioles and Ravens, too.

Britcher, who turns 28 in March, has a laundry list of accomplishments to her name from competing during the past decade, including five individual World Cup victories, the most in USA Luge singles history. She finished 15th in the women’s luge competition at the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia and 19th in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.

Summer Britcher
(Photo Credit: USA Luge)

Britcher set the track record during her second run in Pyeongchang, indicating that she was peaking at the right time heading into the team relay event. However, Britcher’s team finished fourth, narrowly missing out on a medal. As Britcher looks back at the Pyeongchang Games now, she realizes she was “peaking in every way except mentally.”

“I sacrificed so much to get to that point, right? I skipped so many important things of friends and family, always an excuse of, ‘I need to do everything to be so good at the Olympics.’ I got there and I failed,” Britcher said. “I was walking away from it and I went, ‘Wow. I don’t have an Olympic medal. I’m sitting here and I sacrificed all of that for what?’ And that’s just because I went into it with the wrong approach.”

That caused Britcher to reassess her priorities in the months and years after that. She has a different mindset heading into Beijing next month.

“I really want to come away with an Olympic medal — that’s just such an achievement, but not at the detriment of my relationship with my friends and family,” Britcher said. “They’re going to take a bigger priority this time. I’m going to be, for lack of a better way of putting it, a better person to the people in my life. Win or lose, success or failure, I can walk away and be proud and be fulfilled no matter what my results.”

Unlike the previous two Olympics in which Britcher has taken part, there will be no spectators at the Beijing Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Britcher talked to athletes who competed at the Tokyo Games last summer. Some said the no-fans environment created less pressure than usual because family and friends hadn’t traveled a long way to see them perform.

But does a lack of fans affect lugers during competition? After all, they’re going 80 mph on a sheet of ice and have to concentrate on the task at hand. Britcher harkened back to her first World Cup race in Germany. Spectators can right up against the track at some older venues in Europe, according to Britcher.

So the short answer is yes, fans do make a difference.

“I was shocked coming out of one of the curves and seeing so many people. It’s a whole different experience. It’s wild,” Britcher said. “The crazy thing is we haven’t had that for the past two seasons — this season or last season — because of COVID. There haven’t been any spectators at any of the World Cup events.”

Now, Britcher is ready to make another run at an Olympic medal. What is she going to need to get it done?

“The thing that will make this my best Olympics, as far as results beyond just what I can control, is going to be a little bit of luck because anything could go wrong at the last second. Anything can go right,” Britcher said. “Someone else could come out and have a performance of their lifetime. I could get COVID the week before the Olympics. There’s just so much up in the air.”

For more from Britcher, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: FIL/Mareks Galinovskis

Luke Jackson

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