Thursday, April 17, 2014
The official road to Vancouver for Megan Sweeney and Julia Clukey began at the corner of 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza in New York on Friday morning.
Sweeney and Clukey appeared on the NBC ''Today'' show with the eight other members of the U.S. Luge team scheduled to compete in the Winter Olympics in British Columbia in February.
''It was super quick,'' Sweeney said by phone Friday afternoon. ''They did maybe a 30-second segment and then we passed out our name cards to the crowd. But it was really cool. (News anchor) Ann Curry was awesome.''
Friday's appearance on national television and a subsequent afternoon press conference at a cafe on 42nd Street wrapped up an emotional week for Clukey, a 24-year-old from Augusta, and Sweeney, a 22-year-old former student in the Falmouth school system. Each saw her dream of more than a decade realized with a selection to the U.S. Olympic team.
''It really clicked in my head when I was talking to a friend and he said, 'You're an Olympian,''' said Sweeney, whose family moved to Connecticut following her sophomore year at Falmouth High. ''I couldn't even say it myself.''
Sweeney earned the last of three slots for U.S. women in a race-off Wednesday in Lillehammer, Norway, that included her 16-year-old sister, Emily, and another junior slider from California.
''This is probably a very overused phrase, but it was bittersweet,'' Emily said after taking the phone from her sister. ''I'm obviously very proud of Megan. She deserves it. She works really hard and I'm really happy for her. Obviously, I'm a little disappointed that I didn't make it, but I still have time.''
Emily Sweeney will continue to compete on the junior luge circuit and said she is looking forward to her second world championship at that level, in Austria at the same track where she trained for a week with her senior teammates. Since returning from Norway a few days ago, she has busied herself making packing lists for Vancouver.
''Face paint, poster board, noise makers,'' she said. ''Megan's color is hot pink. I think everyone cheering for Megan will be wearing hot pink. It's going to be a lot of fun.''
Clukey persevered through knee, neck and back injuries to earn the second slot on the women's team after reigning world champion Erin Hamlin. At a team meeting last Sunday in Norway, Clukey learned she would not need to take part in the race-off. She immediately made plans to return to Lake Placid, N.Y., and continue rehabilitation.
''Things are definitely going well,'' she said. ''I've been making good progress. Wednesday night was the first time in two weeks that I slept through the night without waking up with weird muscle spasms.''
Clukey said she has been receiving treatment from trainers in Lake Placid three times daily and has even returned to the weight room for the first time since suffering a herniated disc while doing pull-ups on Dec. 1. She had undergone knee surgery in September to repair a torn meniscus.
''I definitely think I've put in my time, injury-wise, this year,'' she said. ''Sometimes freak things happen with your body.''
Both Sweeney and Clukey said they will return to Maine next week to visit friends and family. They are scheduled to fly to Europe a few days after Christmas for more World Cup competition leading up to the Vancouver Games, which begin Feb. 12.
''The Olympics is one of the things in this world that is still so positive and brings so many countries together,'' Clukey said. ''It's a pure form of joy and competition. I think the whole experience will be exciting.''
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: