U.S. luger back on track after horrid crash with German coach WINTER OLYMPICS

February 09, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- The coach was standing on the luge run in Winterberg, Germany, broom in hand, sweeping snow off the ice. The racer was heading down the track on a sled at 75 mph.

The coach slipped. The luger slid. There was a frightful crash.

Two months later, the memory of a horrid luge accident remains vivid for American luger Bethany Calcaterra-McMahon.

She is at her first Winter Olympics, preparing to slide for a medal.

Also here is Sepp Lenz, the German coach who lost his right leg in the accident during a practice. With the aid of a ski pole, he makes his way on an artificial leg around the Olympic luge run in Hunderfossen.

"Everyone always crashes," Calcaterra-McMahon said. "But nothing like this is supposed to happen."

For the American lugers, this has been the season when nearly everything in competition has gone right, and nearly everything else has gone wrong.

Duncan Kennedy, Wendell Suckow and Cammy Myler are legitimate contenders to win America's first Olympic luge medals.

But the team's performance has been overshadowed by a series of strange incidents.

From the skinhead beating of Kennedy to the crash in Winterberg, the Americans have had a winter of woe.

Even now, the team is dealing with another emotional blow. Myler is burdened by the deteriorating medical condition of her brother, Tim, who has colon cancer.

"In a strange way, maybe all of this will help us deal with the pressure of the Olympics," said Jon Edwards, a doubles slider. "The incidents have brought this team closer together."

The American lugers are easy to spot -- they always travel in a group.

"A lot of people on this team have had to grow up fast this year," said Dmitry Feld, a team official. "Suddenly, you find out that you don't just luge together. They stay together to protect their own lives."

Calcaterra-McMahon, 19, of Waterford, Conn., has grown up the fastest this season. A bronze medalist at the 1992 junior world championships, she has endured a rough, rocky ride in her first senior season.

But with the help of her teammates, plus a knack of focusing on the task at hand, she has improved her world ranking to No. 12.

"When something happens to one member of the team, it happens to the rest of them, too," she said. "We're like one big happy family."

In Winterberg, the American lugers rushed to Calcaterra-McMahon's side after the accident. They counseled her, convinced her that there was nothing she could have done to prevent the accident.

She recalls little of the crash.

"I remember seeing the German coach standing there and thinking, 'There is nothing I can do,' " she said. "You're going at 75 miles an hour, and you don't have a second. I thought, 'I'm going to hit him.' I remember hearing a thud and slowing down from 75 to about 45 and going in the curve."

And then she blacked out.

But a day later, she was back on the run.

"I had to race," she said. "I had to get back in the sled."

She gave the performance of her senior career, finishing fifth in the World Cup, all but sealing her place in the Olympics.

In the Winter Games, she is aiming for a top-10 finish. She also wants to meet Lenz, to offer the German coach a hand of friendship.

"When he got hit, his first concern wasn't about his leg," she said. "It was about how I was doing."

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