Salt Lake's Preston Griffall, BYU's Kate Hansen secure spots on 2014 US Olympic luge team

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 9:55 p.m. MST

USA's Kate Hansen gets a hug from Ashley Holt while celebrating qualifying for the Olympic team at the luge World Cup at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Preston Griffall couldn’t stop smiling. Kate Hansen couldn’t stop the tears.

Two local athletes who narrowly missed the 2010 Olympics earned nominations to compete with the 2014 U.S. luge team with their performances in Friday’s Viessmann Luge World Cup at the Utah Olympic Park.

Griffall, an Olympus High graduate, qualified with partner Matthew Mortensen in doubles after finishing in ninth place with a two-run combined time of 1:28.080. Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arit won the race with a time of 1:27.326.

“Obviously, we’re ecstatic,” Griffall said. “This is what we’ve been working for, not just for the past few months, but for the past seven or eight years. This is huge for us. It’s obviously a big relief to know that we’ve made the team.”

While Griffall and Mortensen would have preferred to lock up their spot, which is determined by World Cup finishes, earlier this season, qualifying on the track where Griffall first started sliding was special.

“This is the first track I ever slid on, and for the first couple years of my career as a luge athlete, this is the only place that I slid,” he said. “So it’s awesome. Matt and I didn’t want it to come down to this race, but if there is any place we were going to do it, it was here. This is a familiar place and maybe we had a little bit of a home-track advantage.”

In fact, the duo has trained and participated in seeding races in Park City.

“We’ve been racing well here,” he said. “So we knew we were capable.”

While Griffall competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics with another partner, he and Mortensen lost a race-off with teammates for that final spot.

“It was really heartbreaking for Matt and I to narrowly miss,” Griffall said. After missing out on the 2010 Games, he returned to Utah and tried to think about anything but luge.

“I was a bit depressed,” he said. “I had decided I was going to purely focus on making those Olympics, so I wasn’t doing anything. I was completely focused on sliding.”

He couldn’t even bring himself to watch the Olympic Games, opting instead to watch the results online.

“I didn’t want to watch and see how much fun they were having,” he joked. A couple of months later, the two talked about whether or not they could devote another four years to chasing their Olympic dream.

“We’re both fighters, and we weren’t going to give up that easy. It motivated us to come back and fight even harder for a spot on this team.”

Now that they’ve earned their sport, Griffall said they’re not going to hold anything back.

“This I the beginning of the rest of the season,” he said. “The Olympics are coming up and that’s the big show. … I would like to test out different equipment and really let it rip in every World Cup, find speed and see what will work best, get dialed in for Sochi.”

Hansen, a BYU student from California, also missed out on the 2010 games when she lost a race-off the same weekend as Griffall.

“It’s not real,” she said, leaning on her parents and wiping away tears after qualifying Friday. “This isn’t real. … It feels great. It’s not real. I’m just emotional. I’m stoked. It hasn’t set in. I need to think about this. This has been a long time coming. It’s everything I’ve worked for and more.”

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