David Lemon is home from Russia for a few days before he goes to New York. He's taking Christmas off. More or less. With all this cold and snow, he might get the urge to practice a few starts on the steep parts of 13th East. When you're a slider, you seize your moments.
A slider is what they call you when your sport is the luge. David, who is 16 and goes to Kearns High School (sometimes), has been a slider for two years now and it's in his blood. He'd like to make the U.S. Junior National Luge Team, which is why he's been on a world tour already this winter. Luge tracks aren't exactly like McDonald's. You've got to go to them.When he was invited to accompany the Junior National Team to Germany, the Soviet Union, and Austria on a six-week training/competition trip that conluded earlier this week, he accepted. Not only did he see a whole lot of Europe, he also saw people who, when you tell them you compete in the luge, don't look at you like you're daft.
Sliders are all over Europe, or at least they're all over selected parts of Europe that specialize in winter. They have been holding European Luging Championships since 1914, when the first ones were held in Austria. Little Austrian newborns sometimes have their fathers place miniature luge sleds in their cribs.
Luge sleds look a lot like toboggans, only more streamlined. A luger lies flat on the sled, feet first, and guides the sled as it careens down the luge track with his feet and a hand-held strap connected to the front of one of the runners. Speeds of 60 miles an hour and up are not uncommon, and neither are crashes. David's parents, Jim and Velaine Lemon, were happy this past Wednesday when David got off the plane in Salt Lake in one piece.
The trip turned out to be two things: Productive, and expensive.
David was able to slide on some of the best tracks in the world and was also able to compete in two prestigious competitions, one in Germany, the other in Austria. At the competition in Austria, a tradition-laden junior meet called the Grosser Preis, he finished seventh in his group (Jr. Men Group II) and highest of the Americans, including all of the members of the Junior National Team.
He got a nice medal for that finish. That, along with a suitable-for-Siberia Russian fur hat with a hammer and sickle logo and a Russian watch he bought from a black market capitalist wearing an overcoat near Red Square, summed up his booty after a trip that set he and his parents back about $5,000.
"The only problem with being a candidate for the Junior National Team, rather than being on the team itself," says David, "is when you go on the trips, you have to pay for it yourself."
To that end, he will travel to Lake Placid, N.Y., shortly after the first of the year to begin training for the U.S. National Championships that will be held on Lake Placid's Olympic track in early February. A high finish in the nationals will mean a berth on the Junior National Team, which in turn will mean USOC funding.
David's father, Jim, a cameraman for Channel 4, cringes when he thinks what it's cost so far to raise a slider, but he doesn't cringe too much. He's the reason David discovered the luge in the first place.
It was two summers ago, in 1988, and the U.S. Luge Assn. was on a six-city tour to round up potential sliders. They set up a portable track in the mountains at Jeremy Ranch and invited anyone interested to come up and go down. Channel 4 dispatched a crew to film the story. Jim was the cameraman.
"I came home and said to the family, `hey, we should all go up and give this a try. It looks like fun,"' recalls Jim.
He and Velaine and their children, Delise, now 9, Christopher, 12, and Melissa, 14, went up the next morning, along of course with David.
The Luge Assn. people asked David to stick around. They put him through a number of physical fitness drills and the next thing he knew he was being invited, along with another half-dozen candidates, to Calgary for training at the Olympic Park.
Two years, several hundred trips down luge runs, and several thousand miles on airplanes later, David is a commited luger.
"They say you don't hit your peak until you've been training for eight years," says David. He's hoping they'll get the luge track under way in Utah soon (it's supposed to be under construction by next spring), and he's hoping he can be one of its most frequent users. When you've traveled halfway around the world to find a track, you'd really appreciate having one in your own backyard.