By Ryan Chatelain
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The luge track has not only sent Matt Mortensen and Justin Krewson zooming down the ice at 80 mph, it’s carried them all the way from Long Island to Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Mortensen, from Huntington Station, and Krewson, from Eastport, will represent Team USA in the Winter Olympics next week.
Both are competing in the men’s doubles competition — Mortensen with partner Jayson Terdiman, and Krewson with Andrew Sherk. Whoever fares better out of Krewson and Mortensen, both top drivers on their teams, in doubles on Feb. 14 will earn a spot on the American relay team the following day.
Mortensen and Krewson have a lot more in common than geography. Both got their starts in luge in similar ways and say one of their favorite aspects of the sport is that it’s allowed them to taste different cultures as they compete internationally. But they head to Pyeongchang in quite different places in their careers.
Krewson is just 21 years old and making his Olympic debut.
“It’s going to be all new to me and the biggest stage in the world,” he said. “Really, all I want to do is represent my country well and have two clean runs and a good race.”
Mortensen, meanwhile, is competing in his second Olympics. At 32 years old, he’s the elder statesman on Team USA and has taken on a leadership role.
He knows his chances of leaving with a medal are better now than they were in Sochi in 2014, when he and his former partner, Preston Griffall, placed 14th. Last season, he and Terdiman finished third in the World Cup standings.
“I think that would probably be the most happy I’d ever be in my life,” Mortensen said of the possibility of leaving South Korea with some hardware around his neck. “An Olympic medal is such a high achievement, and it’s something that you work very hard for.”
Both Krewson and Mortensen were introduced to luge as children through the USA Slider Search program, which tries out young, prospective lugers, sends those who make the cut to a screening camp in Lake Placid and then advances the very best to a national team that competes around the world.
Krewson learned about the program at 12 years old after he and his father met former Olympic luger Adam Heidt following an Islanders game. Before long, Krewson was doing all his schooling online while he trained and competed.
“I like luge so much because of the opportunities that it lets me do,” he said. “We get to travel the world, meet hundreds of new people, experience things that most 21-year-olds really will never get to experience, and that’s something that you really can’t take for granted.”
Mortensen’s father, who works for Verizon, Slider Search’s former title sponsor, told his son about the program after seeing fliers around the office.
“My dad just asked me if I wanted to go out and try the sport because I was a pretty athletic kid,” Mortensen said. “I played a bunch of sports already. I was actively involved in soccer, baseball and basketball. And this was just another thing. I didn’t really get to spend a lot of time with my dad growing up because he was commuting to the city and working all the time. So this was just, I think, a way for us to kind of get that father-son bonding going.”
It took Mortensen three attempts before he made the national team at age 13.
Like Krewson, he, too, got hooked on all the globetrotting.
“It’s not for a lot of people, but living out of the suitcase is kind of where I found my niche,” Mortensen said. “I like to be away, and I like to be traveling. I actually couldn’t imagine what it would be like to stay in one spot for a full year.”
And, of course, they both love the adrenaline rush of buzzing down a fast, curvy ice track aboard a sled, knowing precision is everything.
“Inches matter as to how you’re going to navigate it, if you’re fast or not and if you’re going to be in trouble or not,” Mortensen explained, comparing the experience to the “fastest waterslide you’ve ever been on.”
“It would be like jumping out of a plane or bungee jumping,” he said. “It’s something that you really want to do, but once you pull up, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done this.’ For me, it’s just a way of life now. I just feed off that adrenaline.”
Krewson said he felt an added rush in December when he and Sherk qualified for the Olympics, edging out the team of Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza for the second and final spot.
“It’s just an instant relief,” said Krewson, whose team was 16th in the World Cup standings last season. “There’s so much pressure on us throughout the whole summer leading up to the games, even the season before. And then the preseason, the qualifying races, you have to meet these standards to qualify for the games … competing against your teammates, people that you’re around all the time, you see every day — you spend hours with them. And it’s just an instant stress relief when you lock your spot in.”
Away from the ice, Krewson and Mortensen are both heroes to a degree — Krewson is a volunteer firefighter in Lake Placid, and Mortensen is a sergeant in the Army National Guard.
Mortensen participates in the Army World Class Athlete program, which allows athletes at the elite level to train and compete in their sports as part of their active-duty orders.
“So this way, when you go to the Olympics, you’re not only competing as an athlete, you’re competing as United States soldier as well, and you’re showing that the Army has the flexibility to allow soldiers to do things such as compete in the Olympics,” he explained.
“If I didn’t join the military in 2010, I don’t think I’d been able to sustain a life. Amateur athletes don’t really get paid. And I definitely have bills. So the Army definitely helps me to offset those bills while I’m training and competing. Without the military, I wouldn’t have been able to satisfy myself financially, so I probably would have had to leave the sport.”
Instead, Mortensen — and Krewson, too — will be living out their dreams in Pyeongchang.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @WFANWebGuy.