LAKE PLACID - Ray Brook luger Sophie Kirkby made great strides this season.
The 12-year-old slider proved herself to be the best in her age group. For the second year in a row, Kirkby won the Youth B Women's National Championships, which was held in late March at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid.
"What is impressive about her ability is that she is a very exceptional driver for her age," said USA Luge development coach Larry Dolan.
Sophie Kirkby stands on the podium after winning the Youth B Women’s National Championships in late March at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid.
Dolan pointed out that Kirkby is such a good driver that she was also able to compete in both the junior and senior national seeding races in March. She placed eighth out of nine competitors in the senior race and eighth out of 12 in the junior nationals race.
Competing in those races required her to start higher up on the track than athletes her age normally do.
"If we had another week in the season, she probably would have gone from the very top of the track," said Dolan, noting that only the top men competitors race from there.
The senior national race included some of the top sliders in luge, including Olympians. Julia Clukey, who competed in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, won the senior national championships and then did something special for Kirkby afterward.
"For the senior national race, she came in first place both days and she gave me her medal," Kirkby said.
Both Kirkby and her dad Jim said that the luge athletes are extremely close and friendly, especially to the younger athletes.
Dolan said there are two reasons for Kirkby's early success. One is that Kirkby is an excellent athlete. The other is that she has already been training for five years, having started at age 8.
"Truly, she's sliding like an athlete that has a full four or five years of experience, probably a little bit more," Dolan said.
Kirkby is so serious about the sport that she is already dedicating about 20 weeks a year to the sport, according to her dad.
"Every chance she gets to slide, she does," he said.
Kirkby attends about a half dozen sliding camps a year and also trains regularly in Lake Placid from November through April. The season ended last week. In the summer, she trains on sleds adapted for the warmer weather. They have wheels on them.
"Being local is a huge advantage," Dolan said. "We do try to develop local athletes. I believe they get more track time and that's the real key to succeeding. It's just getting on the track and getting your runs."
Kirby said her next goal is to compete in Europe. She would like the opportunity to compete in Latvia or Germany, places with strong traditions in luge.
"I might have had a chance this year, but there was lots of budgets for the Olympics," she said. "So I went to Calgary instead."