John Fennell sees U.S. Olympic hopes fizzle after luge sled cracks

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- John Fennell didn't crack under pressure. His sled did.

Fennell's quest to compete in a second Olympics for a second country came to a sudden end Thursday night at Mount Van Hoevenberg, when part of his sled broke during his run in the Nations Cup race. Fennell, who was flying down the track before the part known as a kufen somehow came off, placed 21st in a race where a top-15 finish was needed to qualify for Friday's World Cup competition.

That means Fennell no longer has a path toward getting one of the three men's spots on the U.S. Olympic team.

"Heartbroken," Fennell said.

The U.S. team for the Pyeongchang Games will be decided Friday, with Tucker West, Chris Mazdzer, Taylor Morris and Jonny Gustafson still in the mix. Fennell seemed like a lock to join them, until the kufen -- one of the runners on his sled -- gave way. When Fennell realized what happened, he knew his Olympic hopes were gone in an instant.

"I hit a wall early in the track and I think it could have fractured it, and eventually it just succumbed to the bumps and the vibrations and broke," Fennell said.

Fennell competed in the 2014 Sochi Games for Canada before transitioning to membership with USA Luge. He was cut from the Canadian national team a year later, decided to take advantage of his dual-citizenship and compete for the U.S., and became a serious contender for an Olympic spot. He came out as gay not long after Sochi, and has spoken about how much it would have meant to compete in Pyeongchang as an openly gay athlete.

He came absurdly close to making it happen, before nothing more than bad luck doomed his chance.

"I don't have words for it," Fennell said. "I can't really process this at the moment. I'm just at a loss. I can't really describe it. It's just unbelievable, that this is how my chance to go the Olympics ends."