Run-off win speeds timetable for Games' only black luger

February 07, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

ALBERTVILLE, France -- Kids from New York aren't supposed to grow up and become stars of the sliding sport known as luge.

But yesterday, Robert Pipkins, 18, of Staten Island, continued his remarkable rise by careening down an icy track on a mountain in La Plagne.

Pipkins earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by winning a three-man run-off with a combined time of 92.654 seconds on two runs.

Wendel Suckow, of Marquette, Mich., finished second in 92.760 to join top-three World Cup performer Duncan Kennedy, of Lake Placid, N.Y., on the three-man team.

Tim Wiley, of Lexington, Mass., was the odd man out, with a time of 93.899.

"I imagined I could get to this level, but not this quickly," Pipkins said. "I was aiming for 1994."

Pipkins, a sophomore at Drexel University in Philadelphia, is the only black luger competing on the international level. He began sliding in 1987 after reading brochures brought home by his mother, Joan, a manager with NYNEX, a U.S. team and World Cup sponsor.

A daredevil while growing up, Pipkins learned to ride a two-wheel bicycle as a 3-year-old, and now relaxes by racing a 600 cc motorcycle that goes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

"This isn't a sport like swimming where you can make lap after lap after lap," he said. "You only have a limited amount of runs."

Pipkins has made the most of his runs in the past month. He either crashes and burns or sets track records. His speed and his potential earned him a spot in the run-off.

"People have said that I'm cocky for as long as I can remember," he said. "But I tend to be confident."

Last month, Pipkins became the first American to win a world luge title by winning the World Junior Championships in Sapporo, Japan.

"I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but obviously, I want to do well," he said. "It's not just enough to go to the Olympics. I'm not expected to win here."

Pipkins said that Albertville is merely a preview in his career. His main event will come at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, when he'll be two years older, wiser, and perhaps, even faster.

"Look out," he said.

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