USA Luge's Clukey still hurting, will race anyway
If this were a regular race weekend, USA Luge veteran Julia Clukey would probably take a few extra days off to continue recovering from a neck injury. She doesn't have the time to spare. Clukey will race in Sunday's World Cup competition at Lillehammer, Norway, despite still having muscle soreness and a tingling sensation along her right arm, the effects of two neck disks getting pushed into a nerve root during an off-ice workout a week ago. Her reason is simple: It's the final international race before USA Luge unveils its roster for the 2010 Vancouver Games on Dec. 18, and staying off the ice this weekend certainly wouldn't enhance her shot of making the Olympic team. "I'm definitely not back 100 percent," Clukey said Wednesday on a teleconference from Lillehammer. "But I'm trying to take it run by run and get back to where I need to be to compete this weekend. And probably, if it wasn't this timeframe, I wouldn't race." USA Luge will nominate a 10-person team, with three men's singles, three women's singles and two doubles pairings on the roster. Of those 10 spots, only one has been clinched, that by reigning women's world champion Erin Hamlin. Everything else will be decided in the next week or so, either by strong finishes at this weekend's World Cup or through a race-off that would be held in Lillehammer on Dec. 16. There's also a chance that USA Luge coaches will fill part of the roster by making discretionary selections. "A lot of the Europeans do train here in the fall. It's one of the first tracks to open that they can get on," Hamlin said. "So there's definitely people that have more experience here than our team. But in the past, we as a country have done pretty well here, so hopefully that continues this weekend." Clukey, a native of Augusta, Maine, was fifth in last season's world championships on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y.. But she is hardly the only Olympic luge hopeful with injury concerns in the American camp these days. Tony Benshoof is struggling with the same herniated disk that required back surgery a year ago and hasn't sealed his 2010 Olympic berth yet. Longtime doubles stars and six-time world championship bronze medalists Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin have the chronic aches and pains that routinely attack luge racers, who strain their backs just about every time a race begins. They'll all try to find a way to set the maladies aside this weekend, with Olympic berths at stake. "That's all you can do," Benshoof said. Clukey got hurt doing what she thought would be a relatively innocuous set of pull-ups. She said she felt a pop in her neck, her whole arm "went heavy" and it affected the strength in her fingers and hand later that day. Clukey went to Munich the following day for a cortisone injection to relieve inflammation, keeping her off the ice for last weekend's World Cup race. "I have almost all the feeling back in my hand, but I'm still dealing with quite a bit of issues with the muscles in my back and shoulders," Clukey said. To clinch an Olympic trip, Clukey would need to finish at least ninth in the Lillehammer World Cup. Otherwise, she'll likely have to take part in next Wednesday's race-off, or hinge her hopes on a coach's selection to the Vancouver-bound roster. In other words, there's no time to waste. "This is it," Clukey said. "This is what I've been working for. I have to just put it all on the line a little bit and just go for it and hope that I don't make things worse."