Massena native heading to Olympics after races in Germany and Switzerland
BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI
North Country This Week
MASSENA — Massena native Jonny Gustafson is heading to the Olympics, but not before he finishes his races in Germany and Switzerland.
“Right now we’re in Oberhof, Germany just waiting for our last runs tomorrow (Jan. 16) and then we’ll be off to St. Moritz, Switzerland. So we’re staying busy right up to the Olympics,” Gustafson said in a recent interview.The road to Beijing has been a long one for Gustafson, beginning with a US Olympic Slider Search at SUNY Canton. Gustafson attended while just in middle-school and quickly began sliding.
“I attended the Slider Search late in the fall of 2008, I think it was, and first slid on ice the following April,” he said.
At that point he was all in on luge, even forgoing clubs and sports teams while attending Massena Central School.
“I tried to still be involved with clubs and sports but if there was ever a conflict, luge always won out,” he said.
Gustafson credits Massena Central School’s staff and administration for allowing him to compete and still be a full-time student.
He said many athletes he’s spoken to in the sliding teams didn’t have the same experience, with some being forced to earn a GED or attend classes remotely, online in order to graduate.
It’s that hard work and dedication that has led to his eventual selection as the number two slider in men’s singles luge for Team USA.
Though he had a pretty good idea he would make the team, Gustafson said it’s still a surreal experience.
“I knew before my last run in Latvia that I was likely in but I couldn’t really focus on that, I was still focused on my next run. I knew I was ahead of Chris (Mazder) and was pretty sure I’d be in but you never know for sure,” Gustafson said.
Once he completed his final run in Latvia, Gustafson said he changed after the race and made his first phone call knowing he had just made the Olympic team.
“I called my parents, they were my very first call,” he said.
Gustafson said his parents had been following closely and knew he had a good shot of making the team, assessing a spreadsheet created by Jim Murphy that tracked the results of each race.
“They had a pretty good idea that I had a chance but it was still a very cool moment to be able to tell my parents I’m going to the Olympics,” he said.
Gustafson said he’s received messages and phone calls from dozens of people to congratulate him, with his parents experiencing much the same.
Also going to the Olympics with Gustafson are Tucker West and Chris Mazder for men’s luge singles. Gustafson credits both with helping him on his journey, in recent weeks especially.
“Our whole teams, on both the men’s and women’s sides, are awesome. I think we have a great culture as a whole and everyone is uplifting and supportive. Even though we’re technically competing against each other, we all know we can go to someone else on the team if we need help. The camaraderie is great,” Gustafson said.
Following the Olympics, Team USA sliders will be able to finally come home for the first time in nearly 16 weeks. Gustafson opted to remain in Europe during the Christmas break due to short travel turnaround times and COVID restrictions.
“I’ve been on the road since Oct. 31, so by the time we can come home, it’ll be close to 16 straight weeks on the road. It’s the longest schedule any of us have ever had because COVID has forced a lot of changes to allow us to compete,” he said.
But still, Gustafson says he hasn’t lost sight of the end goal in Beijing.
“Every time I talk to family and friends it still sinks in more, you know. We talk and I get to say I’m going to the Olympics. There’s nothing like it,” he said.
The Winter Olympics in Beijing begin Feb. 4, with the first run of the men’s singles luge event taking place Feb. 5.