Fractions of a second often separate first place and last place in the sport of luge.
So even the tiniest of errors, like losing concentration for just the time it takes to blink an eye, can lead to failure.
Glen Rock native Summer Britcher isn't bothered much by the fine line between victory and defeat.
"I guess I've just always known that's how the sport works, so I've never had to come to terms with it because I've never had any other expectations," Britcher said during an interview at her parents' Glen Rock home on the Sunday before Christmas.
Britcher was home for the week over Christmas break trying to enjoy a momentary respite before departing to prepare for the most important competition in her life to date: the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
|PURCHASE THESE PHOTOS RANDY FLAUM & AP PHOTOS|
She'll become the first York countian to participate in the Winter Olympic Games, an accomplishment that came about through the smallest of margins in various events over the last 11 months.
Starting the journey: The first came last March in the final luge event of the 2012-13 season, when Britcher posted the second-fastest time of U.S. female competitors at a Norton National race in Lake Placid, N.Y., which qualified her for seeding events in October.
She performed well enough in those October events to make it onto the U.S. World Cup team, which provided her the opportunity to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
"Coaches have always liked Summer and liked her size. Liked her ability to slide," said USA Luge program director Mark Grimmette, a five-time Olympian who won a silver medal in 2002 and bronze in 2008 in men's doubles. "She has had a little bit of trouble in races. But that's something she can overcome with time and more experience."
Some of the troubles Grimmette was referring to were Britcher's driving errors on the sled that led to slower race times.
Those mistakes popped up for the 5-foot, 10-inch luger in November and December during the course of the first four World Cup events of the 2013-14 luge season, which typically runs from November to February. She didn't even finish her opening run in the first event of the season Nov. 16 in Norway but bounced back with a top-eight finish in the second event Nov. 23 in Austria.
She then missed qualifying for the third World Cup event Dec. 1 in Germany before following up with a 15th-place finish at the fourth event Dec. 7 in Canada.
Meanwhile, the stress of competition was leading to other struggles off the track for Britcher.
"I had to force myself to eat. I had no appetite," Britcher said. "I would be hungry but I would eat three bites of my meal. I needed to force myself to finish it."
Not eating is a major problem for lugers because losing weight will result in slower races.
"So leading up to the (fifth World Cup) race (in Park City, Utah) I was having a whole mental struggle of not letting myself get worried about the results and I was just trying to focus on training and having good runs," she said.
Making the team: The final chance for Britcher to make the U.S. Winter Olympics team came Dec. 13 during the fifth World Cup Race in Park City, Utah. Teammate Julia Clukey, a 2010 Olympian, was also vying for the third and final spot on the team - only three women's singles lugers make the team, and two of the spots were already taken.
Clukey needed a top-five finish.
|BILL KALINA/2009 VIDEO|
After completing the last of two runs in Park City, Britcher sat in sixth place while Clukey was third with three top-of-the-field lugers to go - U.S. World Cup teammate Kate Hansen and Germany's Dajana Eitberger and Natalie Geinsenberger. All three had good runs to stay at the top of the leaderboard.
At the end of the event, Clukey sat in sixth place. Britcher was ninth.
Britcher made the Olympic team.
Standing in shock at the finish line was Britcher's mom, Carrie, who years ago discouraged Britcher from competitive skiing because of the danger and travel required before her daughter discovered luge a short time later.
"Everyone was coming over to congratulate us," Carrie Britcher said of that December day in Park City. "I'm like 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' One woman holds up this chart and was like 'Yes. She's in.' And I'm like 'Are you sure?' People came over and were hugging me."
-Reach John Walk at email@example.com.
According to Olympics.org, the sport of luge dates back to the 16th century and first became an Olympic sport in the 1964 Winter Olympic Games.
The first international luge race took place in February 1883, according to usaluge.org.
The United States has never had a medal winner in men's or women's singles luge, with the highest finishes being in fourth place for both men's (2002) and women's (2006).
The only medal winners for the United States luge is in men's doubles, with silver and bronze coming in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
Watching the event
Both men's and women's singles lugers will compete over two days, with each luger getting four runs.
Not every Olympic event will be available live on television, but will be available live online for the first time for a Winter Games, streaming live on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra mobile app.
Men's luge will be held Saturday and Sunday. Women's luge will be held Monday, Feb. 10 and Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Monday, Feb. 10: Women's luge run 1 will begin at 9:45 a.m. eastern standard time. It will not be aired live on television but is available to watch live online. Run 2 will begin at 11:15 a.m. and will air live on the NBC Sports Network.
Tuesday, Feb. 11: Women's luge run 3 will begin at 9:30 a.m. followed by the final run at 11 a.m. They will not be aired live on TV but are available to watch live online. The final two runs will later air on television on NBC beginning at 3 p.m. Tuesday.