MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) – Muskegon native and decorated Olympian Mark Grimmette is in Sochi, Russia at his sixth Olympic Games. But this time he is coaching the USA Luge Team, instead of competing on the team.
Before he won a silver medal in the 2002 Games and a bronze medal in the 1998 Games, he trained at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex in Muskegon County.
The complex has one of the four luge tracks in the entire country.
The track in Muskegon is 1/10 the size of an official Olympic track.
Three local teenagers are training in Muskegon and slated as Olympic hopefuls.
“This is really a training center for the youth to launch into the national programs and hopefully be on one of the next Olympic teams,” said Jim Rudicil, executive director of the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex.
Training starts early, especially for kids with Olympic dreams.
“We’re looking for 8- to 10-year-olds, and by the time they’re 10 we’re sending them to Lake Placid [New York]. Between 10 and 12 years old to be screened by the national program. Once you’re 13, 14, you’re really too old to get involved to get involved to become internationally competitive,” said Rudicil.
It takes about nine years of training and driving luge sleds on international tracks to even be considered for the Olympics.
At that level, it will cost you anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 a year.
The luge track in Muskegon isn’t just for hopeful Olympians. It is open to everyone and a non-profit, pushing the love of the luge.
The sports complex is in its 29th year and finally standing on its own financially.
The buzz around the 2014 Olympic Winter Games has helped business. Officials at the Muskegon complex are seeing record numbers in their youth programs.
“It has been the best year so far, and we’re hoping to ride out the wave all the way through,” said Rudicil.
It is a place where you can get a taste of speeding down an icy luge track where an Olympian got his start, and more will likely follow.
There are two luge tracks — a public one that runs about 25 to 30 miles per hour, and the Grimmette Peak, which has higher speeds for competitive athletes.
Children can join the youth luge program for fun. It costs $60 a season. The track provides the sled, a helmet, elbow pads and coaching tips.
Adult leagues are available during the week as well.
You don’t have to join a league to try the luge track anytime. People at least 8 years old are eligible. It costs $45 for a 2.5-hour session.