Julia Clukey trains for the track
Julia Clukey describes luge as "sledding on a giant, frozen waterslide that is a mile long." With one major exception: "I have a lot more control with my sled than a typical plastic one."
Clukey, who is 28, also has a lot of control over her sled even when she's not flying down a giant, frozen waterslide.
"I spent a lot of time after the Vancouver Games testing my sled, making small changes so it would run and feel the way I wanted it to," said Clukey, who finished 17th at those Games. As she looks toward Sochi, she continues to do the majority of her sled work herself.
"If I want to make a major change or my steels have been damaged -- sometimes sand or tiny rocks make their way onto the track -- then a coach will help," she said.
But the sled is just a slice of what leads to success in luge. Here are a few more pieces of what she hopes will be a golden puzzle:
During the summer, I train four hours a day, six days a week. A typical day is bike/warm-up/stretch for 45 minutes; lift weights for two hours; core/balance workout for 45 minutes; and a 30-minute cool down. I also take a spinning class once a week and love to ride my road bike for a cardio workout. In the winter, ice time is most important. When I'm not competing, I slide twice a day and modify my strength and core training.
Solid as a bench
The starting motion is all upper body -- arms, shoulder, core and back -- and the sliding portion is all about the core. My favorite strength move is the bench press because it works a large group of muscles, and it can be tweaked in a bunch of ways, including normal grip, closed grip, doing it on the floor, bench, or decline bench. Switching it up changes the way I work my muscles, which gives me a great strength base.
Start her up
The start is super important, as it's the only time you are directly accelerating yourself. It's also the easiest part of luge for which to train; start times have a direct correlation to the amount of time you spent training in the offseason. Early in my career, I noticed the German women and team had the fastest starts. I spent a lot of time analyzing their technique and developed a training program for myself based on my observations.
Seeing is believing
Before each training and race run, I visualize what my perfect run will look like. They don't always come out perfect in reality, but it helps to focus my mind on the task at hand. I spent this summer in my home state of Maine, removed from the sport of luge and in 90-degree weather, and often caught myself doing a visualization run from a track somewhere in the world. I thought about the Sochi track a lot.
Zen on ice
I put together a strong training program for this summer and really pushed myself in my weaker areas. I had a great summer, and stayed healthy the entire time, so I'm in a great place. Knowing I'm prepared for the season makes life pretty stress-free at the moment. Now it's just a matter of putting my focus and energy going as fast as I can, and not worrying about what I can't control.