Sled Alert!

Want to be an Olympian but don't have a sport? Luge wants you.

"Okay, good," Zimny says, happy for any toehold.

Next, Zablocki, the hometown hero, is introduced. She gives a short introduction of the luging uniform and an extremely brief explanation of aerodynamics. After that, it's down to the road to sit on one of the actual luge sleds, which, it being summer, are fitted with roller-blade wheels in place of runners.

Zimny, Zablocki and Logan Gastio, a nineteen-year-old junior national team member who was discovered six years ago at a Slider Search in upstate New York, help the kids get onto the sleds in the proper position: flat on the back, toes pointed straight out, head back with the chin tucked into the chest. "What we don't want to see is a big bowling-ball head," Zimny instructs. "Think about flat and long." This is followed by a short seminar in steering: Push gently with the leg on the opposite side you want to turn, while turning your shoulder slightly into the turn.

Mark Poutenis

The formalities taken care of, Zimny proclaims the kids ready to ride. Cullen, a thirteen-year-old from Golden, seems uncertain that a ten-minute introduction to the sport could actually cover sufficient ground. "I'm kind of scared," he says, scoping out the 200-yard asphalt run.

Still, after the first run down the course, most everyone is pumped. "It's awesome!" says Erin. "It's smooth! Kind of like flying!"

Erin whips down the hill in a ruler-straight line. "It just gets better and better!" she says on the way back up the hill. "It's awesome! You have to get a [Rocky Mountain Luge Club] flier!" she instructs her mother. "They go to Utah for a week every year! To luge!"

Not everyone is having it so easy. A couple of boys veer suddenly off the course, blast over a cone or two and slam into the curb. But after three runs each, everyone graduates up the hill to the USA Luge team trailer, which is emblazoned with orange flames and the words "The Ultimate Slide." The top of the trailer folds out to make a starting ramp.

After a physical-ability exam (pull-ups, stationary jump, medicine ball throw and flexibility test), the kids are released back into the real, non-Olympic world. "Thanks guys," Zimny tells them. "You guys did a good job today."

Privately, Zimny is more ambivalent about the morning's recruiting session. "A lot of the kids just aren't getting the hang of it," he complains. "I'm kind of discouraged." Erin is good, but she's a bit old for the Slider Search; Zimny says that thirteen-year-old Mallory, who has been quietly mastering her sled, might have a better chance of making the cut.

Still, he promises to send everyone a letter, even those who don't get invited to Lake Placid this winter. Finally, he calls out each kid's name, and they all walk up to receive a T-shirt.

Everyone claps. The kids, flush with the excitement of flying down the road on a real luge sled, beam. It's an Olympic moment.

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