Aberdeen's Agnew has eye on 1998 Olympics in luge At 15, she's best in U.S. for her age group

April 04, 1993|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff Writer

Amanda Agnew isn't quite old enough to get a driver's license, but she is comfortable moving 70 mph.

All she needs is a small sled and an icy track.

The Aberdeen High School sophomore is one of the United States' brightest young stars in luge.

A member of the U.S. Junior National Luge Team that trains from Latvia to Lake Placid, Agnew lies on a flat sled and races down slick, winding tracks for much of the fall and winter.

At speeds of up to 70 mph, it only takes her about 42 seconds to reach the bottom of a 1,200-meter run. She goes so fast even she doesn't look where she's going, but not because she's afraid.

"We don't look," said Agnew, 15. "Once you're used to the track, you try not to lift your head up because it's aerodynamically slow, so it's a lot of peripheral vision and concentration."

Mostly concentration.

"One little mental glitch and you'll crash. You have to have this deep concentration, and that's hard sometimes," she said.

Crashes are part of the sport, and Agnew has had her share.

She has been bruised and sore but nothing worse. That seems remarkable since her body has no protection in a skintight unitard that keeps her as aerodynamically streamlined as possible. But she does wear a helmet and a face mask.

Still, she can point to each nick in her unitard and explain which crash caused it. But she is not afraid.

"It's not all that dangerous," said Agnew, whose goal is to make the 1998 Olympic team. "They [the U.S. Luge Association coaches] take every safety precaution. They won't let you move up unless you're ready."

Not much scares Agnew, a champion ski jumper at age 9. Living in Lake Placid, she moved on to luge when there was nothing left to achieve as a jumper.

At 10, she began sliding on a mini-run with four curves. Over

several years, she worked up to the full 15-curve course.

Despite her youth, Agnew started in luge late compared with the Europeans, who dominate the sport.

"In Europe, they stick kids on sleds when they're 4 or 5. We went out once or twice a week just for fun. I was just having a good time."

Then her family moved to Florida, following her sister Amy's ice dancing coach. There was no place to train for the luge, and it wasn't until a vacation trip to Lake Placid that Amanda, then 12, started sliding again. She realized how much she missed it.

She began training again on regular trips to Lake Placid. The following year, she made the U.S. Luge Association's development team. A year later, she went a step further, making the candidate team. Last fall, she was named to the Junior National Team.

And the Agnews moved to Havre de Grace last fall, so 17-year-old Amy could train at the University of Delaware in ice dancing.

Amanda has completed three training tours of Europe. The most recent was a great success.

After crashing in her first World Cup race in Winterberg, Germany, last fall, Agnew wasn't sure how she would do on the winter tour. But at her next World Cup race in Konigsee, Germany, in January, she finished second in the under-16 age group and eighth overall among juniors (under 19).

She followed that up with an even better performance a week later in Igls, Austria, finishing first in her age group and fourth overall.

"I came into the season as the sixth-fastest junior, maybe not even that," she said. "It was supposed to be just a development year. I wasn't supposed to win any races or anything, and I did. I was really excited."

Returning to Lake Placid in February, Agnew established herself as the nation's top junior luger by winning the girls junior title. She went on to finish seventh in the senior competition, losing only to the six women on the senior national team.

Now that she has the finish down pretty well, Agnew plans to work harder on her starts.

There is no running start in luge. Agnew, already sitting on the sled, relies on upper-body strength to get going as fast as possible. With spikes on the fingertips of her gloves, she pushes off with her hands to start down the track.

"If I started better I would be faster. They say for every 1,000th [of a second gained] at the start, it's a tenth at the end, and that's a whole lot. You can be a tenth behind, and be back six places," she said.

This summer, she will head back to Lake Placid, but not before she spends a little time in school. A tutor travels with the team, so Agnew keeps up with her studies despite having missed all but about three weeks of the school year so far.

"My parents would never let me sacrifice my education for luge," said Agnew, who plays for the Eagles' softball team. "I want to go to college, absolutely. After luge, I'm going to want to have a real career, maybe in environmental science."

But that college education will have to fit around her training schedule.

Agnew plans to attend a college on a quarterly system, so she can take classes during two semesters and still find time to train in Europe. Money for travel won't be a problem since the U.S. Luge Association fully finances her training as long as she stays on the national team.

Even if she doesn't make the 1998 Olympic team, Agnew said she probably has two more chances at one of three berths for women on each team.

"In 2002, I'll only be 24, and that's still kind of young, so I figure I've got at least until 2006," she said.

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