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Massena Central High School student preparing for January trip across Europe to compete in Junior Luge World Cup

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MASSENA — Massena Central High School junior Johnny Gustafson, 16, will be out of school for the entire month of January as he travels throughout Europe competing with the best young lugers that the world has to offer.

Johnny, son of town attorney Eric J. Gustafson and Java’s Veterinary Clinic receptionist Joanne C. Gustafson, will be taking part in the Junior World Cup & World Championships beginning Jan. 3 in Sigulda, Latvia.

From there, he will be luging in Konigssee and Oberhof, Germany, and Igls, Austria.

“There are multiple World Cup events to compete in. I am doing four of those races and but I am not competing in the overall World Cup because I didn’t compete in the first half,” Johnny Gustafson said. “We are at each of those places for a week. We train for five days, compete on Saturday and then rest and travel on Sunday. Then we pick up training in the next place.”

Johnny played hockey in the past and has been luging for five years.

He has competed in nationals for each of the past four years, and in March, he will take part in his fifth.

“Nationals were in Lake Placid for two years in a row, but my third year was in Park City, Utah. Last year was in Lake Placid and this March will be as well,” he said. “So far I have medaled every year I did nationals. The first year I got first, the second year I got second, third year I got third and last year I also got third. That was all for the youth nationals.”

The 16-year-old said the Junior World Cup will be his first experience competing across the world.

“I have done training across the world before, but not competition,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be really special and very nerve-racking. It’ll be a good experience and I am really excited for it.”

While luging can have one or two riders in the luge sled (2014 will see a new three-relay format), Johnny has always been a single rider. Additionally, he will be the only male youth sliding for the team.

Traveling for the team will be Johnny, one doubles team, one junior member, two youth girls and two junior girls.

The Massena resident said the vehicles can get up to 90 miles per hour.

Despite the high speeds and extreme danger in the sport, Johnny said, it isn’t as hazardous as some may think.

“Every now and then (I) get up to 75. The fastest I’ve gone is 80 miles per hour,” he said. “I have crashed a few times, but haven’t had any bad crashes. I have flipped off a curb and onto the ice before. I haven’t done it this year, though. I have hit walls this year once in a while.”

“I hold my breath when he leaves the start gate until I see him finish,” Eric Gustafson said. “If you watch how fast those sleds are going when they go by, it’s astounding how fast they’re going. Both his mother and I worry when he goes, but by the same token, if you compare it to football or hockey, nobody’s hitting him, and for the most part, the crashes that he’s had have been fairly contained. It’s been scrapes and a couple of bumps and bruises, but that’s about it.”

Johnny has had experience at both the Konigssee and Igls tracks.

He took part in Junior International Training Week from Nov. 11 to 16 at the Igls track, while preparing at the Konigssee location from Nov. 18 to 23.

The luge tracks are shorter than a mile, with the athletes typically finishing their race in 40 to 60 seconds.

Johnny’s parents will be going to Germany to watch their son compete in the Konigssee race Jan. 18, but other than that, communication between them will be limited to phone calls and Skype.

Though the other races will be available for viewing online, with the time difference, they will not be broadcast at the most convenient time.

“The nice thing is now with Skype, it’s really easy to maintain contact. We will send emails and he’ll check his email where he’s got Wi-Fi and we’ll arrange times to Skype. So it’s really pretty smooth keeping in contact with him; a lot easier than it used to be,” Eric Gustafson said. “Depending on the days that the actual races are going to occur, we’ll try and catch them even if we have to stay up late past our bedtime.”

“The races are fairly early in the morning, around 8 a.m., which is 1 or 2 a.m. time here,” Johnny Gustafson said.

According to usaluge.org, the high school junior’s best ever results include a bronze medal at the Norton Youth A National Championship in 2012 and 2013. He also got bronze in the 2012 Empire State Games.

Johnny noted that while he already has accomplished much in his luge competitions, he still will be going on his first run ever at a couple of the race sites.

“I’d really like to do well since it’s my first time competing internationally,” he said. “I don’t have any high expectations. I would just like to have clean runs. I would especially like to do well at Oberhoff and Sigulda, since that will be my first times there.”

Whether it be the training week at the start of the month in Latvia or the 29th Junior World Championships in Austria, the teenager who is barely old enough to drive a car in New York said he has a very specific mind-set when preparing for a race.

“At the beginning, I usually do a mind run. I think about what needs to be done and keep telling myself that. I just go out on the ice and do what I need to do,” he said. “You can tell when you get to the bottom how you did. Depending on the time, if it’s good, it’s a great feeling.”

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