They think they’ve finally got this speed thing figured out.
And it could put Berwick’s Jayson Terdiman and teammate Christian Niccum on the fast track to Olympic success.
“For me, for all of us, it’s about keeping our focus on what we have to do,” Terdiman said Tuesday during a United States luge team conference call from Germany. “And that’s to go downhill at a fast rate of speed and have fun doing it.”
That appears to be easier now for Terdiman and Niccum, who will partner to represent the U.S. team at the Sochi Winter Games in the doubles competition, which be held from Feb. 8-13 in Russia.
Over the last month, Terdiman and Niccum worked feverishly to cut down precious tenths of a second, which could have them zooming toward the Olympic medal stand.
It all started with the equipment.
“For me, the first half of the season was kind of rough,” Terdiman said. “We couldn’t figure out where we were losing time in the races. We had some great runs, and the time wasn’t showing that.”
Enter their sponsors.
Terdiman and Niccum turned to Dow materials for a faster sled design, and another team sponsor, Norton, partnered with U.S. Steel on a formula for faster running surfaces.
“We did all the work over the Christmas break,” Terdiman said.
The combination led Terdiman and Niccum to a ninth-place finish in Germany this past weekend — the duo’s best finish of the season.
“Our equipment hasn’t been working as well as we thought it should,” said Niccum, a two-time Olympic luge veteran who explained some of the team’s singles luge competitors had experienced increased success after working with Dow. “Our equipment hasn’t been really as fast as what we thought was possible. We just went to work with our technical coach in Prague City to see if we can find some of that speed.
“I think we’ll see in the weeks to come if there’s a reason to be a little more excited.”
They’re off to a good start with that.
Terdiman and Niccum took their second top-10 finish on the European portion of the World Cup over the weekend, finishing ninth during the luge doubles running at Oberhof, Germany, with a fast time of 1:24.183 — less than a second off the men’s leaders and just .304 of a second from reaching the medal stand.
“Two runs that weren’t our best,” Terdiman called them, “but it was a top-10 finish. That’s promising.”
Promise has been there for Terdiman and Niccum ever since they teamed up on the luge nearly four years ago with Olympic glory in mind.
“When Christian asked me to slide with him, that was a no-brainer,” Terdiman, 25, said of the veteran Niccum, who will turn 36 on Jan. 27 just before competing in his third Olympic slide. “For me, knowing how accomplished Christian had been, sliding with Christian, I’ve learned a whole new way of sliding (and) gained a ton of experience.
“It’s really the trust in what he knows. The things I’ve learned, I can’t really put a price on that. It’s absolutely keeping my eye on the prize.
“He’s gone through two back surgeries and ankle surgery since we’ve been a team,” Terdiman continued, “but through it all, he’s always encouraging me to keep working and keep getting better. Now that we’re back on the slide and we’re healthy, things are working out for us. Yeah, he’s the older guy.
“He’s wiser, he likes to think.”
Their shining moment together came Dec. 1, when they joined up with Kate Hansen and Tucker West at Winterberg, Germany, to bring home a silver medal in the World Cup luge relay race, which will be a newly added event at this year’s Olympics.
“The team relay is a very exciting event,” Niccum said. “You have three sleds going down, so you have three chances of mishaps happening. Just like in track and field when they have the relays, the mishaps happen when you’re passing that baton. That’s exactly what can happen with our race.”
In fact it did in the December Winterberg relay — to other teams.
“We just kept moving up in the standings as those mishaps were happening,” Niccum said.
“We just wanted to have a good, solid race,” Terdiman said, “and get those guys (Hansen and West) some experience. I think we were fifth-t0-last when we finished our race and there were four teams to go after us — the Austrians, the Italians, Canadians and Germans.
“The Canadian doubles team pulled through the gate too far, and when (Germany’s) Natalie Geisenberger (who crashed at the start) made that mistake, we couldn’t believe it. It was a great race for Team USA, for sure. We had smiles all over our faces.”
The same smiles Terdiman and Niccum hope to take to the luge doubles medal stand in Sochi next month.
But until then, there’s work to be done by both of them. Sitting at 13th in the current World Cup Standings, Terdiman and Niccum will compete in the eighth World Cup event in Altenburg, Germany, this weekend, close the World Cup events with a run in Sigulda, Latvia, next weekend, then do a tune-up in France before riding down the slopes of Sochi.
“That helps keep the mind on not being distracted by all the things than can happen in Sochi,” Terdiman said. “We don’t want to over-think anything.”