PORTLAND, Maine — Maine native Emily Sweeney crashed during her second run on the luge track at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Monday.
Sweeney, who has the fastest run by a U.S. woman this Winter Olympics and was in 10th after her first run, ended the individual competition in 26th.
The two-time Olympian got upended in the last four curves, 13-16, and slid across the finish line with sled in hand to keep her in the competition. But she is well off the pace.
“My results aren’t showing it, but I’m more competitive than I’ve ever been,” Sweeney said. “I have more eyes on me from other countries than I’ve ever had. I’m actually sliding very well on the sled. People have been complimenting me from all different walks of sliding. It’s crazy, but I feel good on the sled. It’s just something’s missing, and in a sport that’s timed to the thousandth of a second, you can’t have something missing.”
"It's a tough spot," Sweeney told reporters after Monday's race. "You have to come out right. If you're not correct coming out, the track dips away, and then you're weightless a little bit. And so, if you're crooked a little bit in your sled, or if you're not in a great spot, it'll get you."
If she maintains that fastest time for a U.S. woman, she could be chosen for the Team Relay.
Sweeney crashed in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, suffering a broken neck and back.
"I had literally the perfect storm of a crash. I hit the wrong spot and then was airborne. And when you're airborne in luge, you don't have control," Sweeney said in an interview before leaving for Beijing. "I was just a victim of physics at that point."
Crashing is not uncommon in luge. Due to the speed, slickness, and strict need for balance, many athletes tap the track walls or end up spinning out. But not many crashes end up in serious injuries.
Six months after the crash in 2018, Sweeney's bones had healed.
"I had never been afraid of luge before," she said. "So that was challenging."
Her sister, Megan Schafer, who was also an Olympic luge athlete with Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Games, was in the stands in Pyeongchang when Sweeney crashed.
"I still haven't seen the video in full," Schafer said. "As soon as I saw Emily start to turn, I took off. I knew exactly where she was on the track, and I needed to be there when she finally stopped. It was the scariest moment of my life."
"I was so proud of her to get up and walk away. She went through a really hard time after the Olympics, and she's in this place now where she's like, 'I have the opportunity to re-write my story.' And that's so powerful. But, yeah, that really sucked," Schafer said. "It's been four very, very long years of her relearning her mental state towards sliding, but also her physical state."
Emily has worked just as much mentally as she has physically to recover and get back on the sled.
"It is in the back of my mind, but honestly, I talked a lot about it leading up to the beginning of the season. But then I turned that part of my brain off because it's draining for me to go back there because it was super challenging. But right now, I'm just focused on building momentum towards the next shot," Sweeney said in a press conference before leaving for Beijing.
"Emily is fine, but that was a tough pill to swallow," USA Luge spokesperson Sandy Caligiore wrote in an e-mail on Monday. "She'll race tonight (Tuesday in Beijing) but will need a very good third run to get a fourth Top 20 advance."
For Emily, she will need to tap into those same strategies she used to overcome 2018's crash, ones she has used in the last 1,460 days.
"Everyone has their own routines of what they do before you have to go. For me, I clear my mind completely because you can't have any distractions when you're going down the track. Any secondary reaction is too late. By that time, you have it, so it's just about clearing my mind and being in that free space, which luge has always been that [way] for me. Even now, as much as we are in the craziness of the Olympic year, still in a pandemic, of all these things, every time you sit on the sled and pull off the handles, you're in the zone," Sweeney said in a news conference before leaving for Beijing.
NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with Sweeney, and the full interview can be seen below:
NEWS CENTER Maine also spoke with Megan Schafer, Sweeney's sister, a former luge Olympian. Watch the full video below.