Glen Rock's Summer Britcher overcomes challenges to enjoy satisfying World Cup season

ROB ROSE
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Summer Britcher from the USA cheers at the finish line after finishing third at the luge world cup in Oberhof, Germany, Sunday, Feb.2, 2020. (Martin Schutt/dpa via AP)
  • Summer Britcher won a bronze medal and pre-qualified for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
  • Britcher has been a member of the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Olympic teams.

Glen Rock's Summer Britcher had an unusual opportunity last fall.

It's one that she hopes she'll never have again.

The USA Luge team was forced to skip the first half of the World Cup season because of COVID-19 concerns, so the Susquehannock High School graduate found herself watching other teams race while she and her teammates had to be satisfied with training sessions.

“That was really, really hard, seeing the rest of the world compete and not taking part,” Britcher said. “It was very different, just in the sense of feeling behind the rest of the world, in a way.”

Eventually Britcher accepted the situation and was able to cheer on her friends from across the world while she focused on her training and preparing for the opportunity to perform once the U.S. team’s season began.

Summer Britcher, of the United States, celebrates a second-place finish in the women's sprint World Cup luge event in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

The Americans began to train on the ice more than a month later than usual and spent most of their time training in the weight room. USA Luge head coach Robert Fegg tried to keep the athletes’ motivation up by holding an intersquad race. Still, it took the team some time to adjust to the speed of the World Cup events against teams with a head start on the season.

Britcher's performances: Britcher opened the season with a 15th-place finish, before moving inside the top 10 in her next two races. In her fourth race of the season, Britcher claimed a bronze medal, the only piece of hardware for Team USA during the season.

“I knew it was going to be hard going into the season,” said Britcher, who has five World Cup victories to her credit. “I knew it would be unfair to expect the same results of myself that I have had in previous seasons, so even when I wasn’t getting the results I would typically get, I still felt confident I would get there. So when I did reach the podium, I felt like, ‘OK, I was right to believe in myself.’”

Mental approach: One of the two-time Olympian’s keys to sustained performance is her mental approach to the season. Britcher said overthinking things can be an issue during her everyday life. During training and on the track, however, her outlook on what she considers success has led her to be one of the world’s best in the sport.

“I focus on what I’m valuing and basing my success off of,” Britcher said. “When I was younger, I would base it off just results and what places I was getting in races, which is something in a way that is out of your control. So, I change that up year-to-year and sometimes it stays the same. Am I enjoying myself? Am I finding the love in sport right now? Or am I having really quality competitive runs? Did I learn a lot this week? Through adapting that with what’s actually going to help you succeed, I have ended up with textbook success by changing what I decide makes me successful.”

Coach is impressed: Fegg took over the U.S. team in May and had a number of conversations with Britcher about her goals and how to reach them. During a season where the team was limited in training and got off a slow start, he credited Britcher’s work ethic, skills and experience for allowing her to consistently post solid results despite the challenges.

Summer Britcher of United States smiles after she placed third of a women's race at the Luge World Cup event in Sigulda, Latvia, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Roman Koksarov)

The Team USA coach added that Britcher has the talent to be in the top six every race, but he expects next season to see her leave events with hardware more often.

“Summer is where she’s supposed to be,” Fegg said. “Summer has the skills and the self-motivation to get there. She is pushing herself to the limit. Summer has shown on an international level she is a medal contender at all times and has the potential to become even better. I have no doubt she will achieve the goals she set for herself.”

Aiming for another Oympic Games: One of those goals Britcher accomplished was pre-qualifying for the 2022 Olympic team. Britcher earned three top-10 finishes this season and increased her chances to participate in a third straight Olympics, but she knows there is a lot that needs to happen between now and the Beijing Games.

“It feels very good,” Britcher said. “I’m not quite relieved, but satisfied I secured that. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I felt confident in my ability to at least make the World Cup season next year. It’s a nice extra little plus and a little bit of stress off, but the real work still needs to be done next year to qualify for the team.”

Summer Britcher of United States finishes her team relay race at the World Luge Championships in Krasnaya Polyana, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Artur Lebedev)

Happy with the season: Missing half of the season and earning one medal isn’t what Britcher envisioned for this campaign, but the fact that she got to even race at all was a victory. For Britcher, some years find success measured in podiums, while in others, it’s just about improving. From where she began — watching events take place a world away — ending the season with a medal and getting a step closer to the 2022 Olympic team seem like major accomplishments.

“I’m just so grateful I was able to go compete at all,” Britcher said. “I’m grateful they were able to put all these protocols in place and we were able to have a safe and successful season. I’m happy with the season. All the factors considered, I’m happy with the results that I had.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.