- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Tucker West’s long slide to the Olympics began on a luge track his dad built in their backyard.

Inspired by watching the sliding sport during the 2002 Salt Lake Games with Tucker, then only 6, Brett West decided to construct a luge run behind the family’s home in Ridgefield, Conn. Without even drawing up plans, the Wests went to work and wound up with a functional, 800-foot-long wooden track.

The Wests even nicknamed a few of the turns, including McClaine’s Curve, because it bent toward the home of their neighbors, the McClaines.

The 18-year-old West, the youngest-ever member of the U.S. luge team, credits the track with getting him started.

“It’s awesome,” said West, who will compete in his first games on Saturday. “It’s still working.”

West had the fifth best start time during Friday’s final practice run, even faster than two-time gold medalist Armin Zoeggeler of Italy. The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in singles, but Erin Hamlin, a former world champion, World Cup race winner Kate Hansen, and two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer could surprise and make the podium.

In West and 19-year-old teammate Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., the Americans have a young nucleus that should improve through experience.

And who knows? There may a few 6-year-olds who watch them and convince their dads to grab a hammer and nails and head out back.

- Tom Withers - Twitter https://twitter.com/twithersAP


Associated Press reporters will be filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: https://apne.ws/1c3WMiu

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