Downhill fast for U.S. Luge Association in D.C.

August 14, 1999|By Georgia N. Alexakis | Georgia N. Alexakis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Every last detail had been carefully planned: the date, the time, the place.

All that the United States Luge Association needed was a go-ahead from Congress -- permission to use Capitol Hill for a summer luge clinic designed to help the national team find its next generation of Olympic hopefuls.

But earlier this week, a Senate committee put the brakes on the luge team's plans. The committee declined to take up a resolution that would have allowed the team to set up a dry-track luge course on the north side of Capitol Hill and on a quarter-mile stretch of Constitution Avenue. The House had approved the plan in June.

The clinic, which was originally scheduled to take place today, has been postponed indefinitely until the luge association can find an alternate venue in the area. What's needed is another suitably sloping stretch of road that can accommodate a portable ramp, a traffic-cone slalom course and 30 10-to-14-year-olds using sleds equipped with wheels and moving at speeds of close to 20 mph.

"It's definitely off the books, and we're are all very disappointed," said Sandy Caligiore, the luge association's spokesman. "We're not going to give up hope on the Washington area, but I think we're going to give up hope on Capitol Hill."

Last year, a similar resolution was passed by the House before it failed at the hands of the Senate's Rules and Administration Committee, which handles all requests to use Capitol Hill grounds. Both times, the committee decided that shutting down Constitution Avenue -- one of the city's main arteries -- for the two three-hour clinics would be too inconvenient.

"It's not the first resolution not to make it through the committee -- it wasn't a terribly dramatic thing," said Tamara Somerville, the committee's majority staff director. "There are a lot of demands to use this area, and we don't shut down Constitution Avenue regularly."

So Caligiore has now turned to the District's sports commission and the local police to help him find another site for a Washington-area clinic. The luge association has its sights set on stretches of 13th Street or Eastern Avenue and hopes to reschedule the clinic for a weekend in early October, after it holds similar youth clinics in eight other cities along the East Coast.

"This time, I think it should be a little easier," Caligiore says. "Now we're dealing with a completely different kind of local official."

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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