Mature and experienced, Glen Rock's Summer Britcher ready for second shot at Olympics
- Glen Rock's Summer Britcher will make her second appearance in the Winter Olympics this year.
- She posted a 15th-place finish in women's luge during the 2014 Games in Sochi.
- Britcher heads to Pyeongchang with the most career World Cup singles luge victories in American history.
One of the first flashes of Summer Britcher’s competitive determination came at an early age.
To hear her mother, Carrie Britcher, tell it, a then-10-year-old Summer was disgusted at learning of her mother’s participation in a local cherry pit-spitting contest.
“She found it gross and was disgusted I was doing it,” Carrie Britcher said. “Then she decided she was going to beat me, that she was going to take that from me.”
Summer went on to win, as the story goes, and the victory was just the start of a slew of endeavors that seemed to come naturally to the girl from Glen Rock — from grabbing leads in plays the first time out to becoming a standout athlete while attending Susquehannock High School.
Each accomplishment was another testament to her natural talent, combined with a strong tendency toward achievement once she put her mind to something.
Even in her Olympic discipline, the luge, she met with early success at the youth levels. Once she got a taste of the highest level of competition, however, Summer encountered a situation that required more than gifted abilities.
She discovered it was as much about improving off the track as on it.
Summer has maximized her long-standing determination and inherent capabilities by adding a new, maturity-driven focus and mental approach. That has helped her luge career blossom from one of surprise Olympic participant to national record-setting Olympic contender.
First taste of the Olympics: Summer first participated on the biggest stage during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russa. Then 19 years old, she was the youngest member of the American luge crew and went on to a 15th-place finish.
Since then, Summer has experienced a World Cup career of steady improvement that reached record heights this season while seeing her qualify for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games in South Korea. The Games run from Friday, Feb. 9, through Sunday, Feb. 25, with women's luge being contested Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 12-13.
“Everywhere — sliding, starts, strength, just general maturity,” Summer said when asked what’s changed between Games. “I’m in a way better place now than I was four years ago. I was pretty inexperienced last time around. It was my first year on the World Cup circuit and I was definitely the young kid on the team.”
The experience and maturity are perhaps the most valuable assets Summer possesses in preparation for South Korea.
The maturity was born of having to get past the negativity that surrounded an injury that slowed a rapidly rising World Cup career. Her maturity also helped produce an attitude of relaxation, forming a guiding mantra to take things "one race at a time.”
A breakout 2015-16 World Cup season saw Britcher claim three victories and reach the season’s halfway point atop standings before finishing the season in fifth. A nagging shoulder injury, however, hampered a campaign of lofty expectations the following season, resulting in Britcher skipping the final event of the 2016-17 season.
Through it all, she still fought her way to a pair of fourth-place singles finishes and a 10th overall finish in 2017, the third-highest finish by an American. She also captured the Under-23 World Championship and helped the U.S. team win a bronze medal in a team relay at Lake Placid early in the season.
Career season: “Experience and patience,” Summer said when describing her successful 2017-18 season. “… I’ve just been shooting for being very consistent, taking each race by itself, not getting too caught up in the overall points system, or caught up in my results. Thinking how can I get two good runs, how can I be consistent, and it’s working out pretty well.”
That focus on building a consistent mental approach helped Summer go from dealing with the pressures of needing a bounce-back season to again represent her country in the Olympics to setting records and establishing herself as a real contender for an Olympic podium spot.
A crash in the season’s opening event in Austria kept Summer out of the finals. She salvaged the wreck, however, by forging a mantra of relaxing, enjoying the sport more and shedding some of the pressures she was putting upon herself.
She bounced right back with a pair of podium finishes in Winterberg, Germany, taking a third-place finish in the regular World Cup race and a second-place medal in the sprint race.
“I’m constantly reevaluating and trying to make sure that I’m in the right place mentally. That I’m doing the right things physically, both training and recovery wise. And that I have my equipment in the right place,” Summer said. “So, it’s an ever-changing sort of preparation, but I think that things are going in the right direction. Hopefully everything will be where it needs to.”
Record-setting race: Continuing to improve as the year went on, Summer nailed down her spot on the Olympic team in December. The crowning achievement of Summer’s season, however, came on Jan. 20 in Lillehammer, Norway.
She captured double golds, sweeping the traditional two-run and single-heat sprint races. The wins moved her career World Cup victory total to five, the most by any American, man or woman. The triumphs also vaulted Summer to an eventual third-place finish in the overall World Cup women’s singles standings for the season — her career best.
To claim victory on the former Olympic track in Lillehammer, Summer needed to defeat a field that included those who will be her toughest competition in South Korea. German three-time Olympic medalist Natalie Geisenberger took second in Norway but won the overall World Cup title in 2018 for her sixth-straight title.
Geisenberger’s teammate, Dajana Eitberger, finished second in the overall standings and is another part of the German luge juggernaut.
Summer's performance in Norway, however, should provide a calming experience for her to draw on as she prepares to take on the world’s best.
“Very helpful, mostly helpful in dealing with stress the night before the race,” Summer said of the value of winning on a previous Olympic track. “Every previous time that I’ve been on a podium, it was a bit of a surprise involved, from weather changing, or my equipment changing or people messing up. I wasn’t generally thinking about that the night before.
“But (in Norway), I had a pretty good idea, based on my training results, that I had a good chance of being on the podium, if not the top of the podium. And that was something new to me, to cope with that mentally, and to put myself in a position where I wouldn’t crack under the pressure.”
America’s chances: Summer’s overall third-place finish was the best by a U.S woman in the World Cup season standings since Cameron Myler’s second-place finish in 1991-92. Myler also owns a third-place overall finish, as does Summer’s Olympic teammate this year, Erin Hamlin.
Hamlin won America’s first singles medal in luge, a bronze, in 2014.
Summer’s momentum and Hamlin’s pedigree represent two of the United States’ top chances to add to a program history that has only four men’s doubles medals outside of Hamlin’s bronze, with the last of those medals coming in 2002.
After a World Cup season that saw her account for four of the country’s nine medals, Summer joins Hamlin and Emily Sweeney on the American women’s singles team.
While she knows achieving the ultimate prize, an Olympic medal, will require the performance of a lifetime, there’s really only one way she can approach it.
“One race at a time.”
Elijah Armold is a sports reporter at The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.