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Gustafson finishes 17th, parents reflect on international trip to see son compete in Junior Luge World Cup


MASSENA - Eric and Joanne Gustafson, along with their oldest son Graham, recently spent over a week traveling through Europe, their first time exploring the continent.

But it was far from the most memorable part of their trip.

The trio were following the USA Junior Luge National Team from Sigulda, Latvia to Konigssee, Germany, watching 16-year-old Johnny Gustafson represent his country.

The Massena Central High School junior concluded his month long international adventure on Saturday (Friday evening in United States), finishing 17th out of 49 racers in the Junior Luge World Cup Championships.

The competition included weekend stops in Latvia, Germany, and Austria for the games, while weekdays consisted of traveling and training.

“It was amazing. I don’t know how to put it any other way. All of the Junior National team participants were incredible, every last one of them. They reflected well on the country. To see what they do in the scope of the track and how fast they’re going, it’s amazing. It really is,” Eric Gustafson said.

“We didn’t get to see him that much during the week. Monday (Jan. 12) was a rest day so we got to see him. The next day was a travel day. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we got to see him for about 30 minutes each day. He was busy training, reviewing tape, lifting weights, etc.”

The overall standings are based on a cumulative points system. Johnny finished his three events in seventh, ninth, and 14th place, earning 46, 39, and 28 points in the respective races. This gave him a total of 113 points.

Mrs. Gustafson was particularly impressed with her youngest son’s poise and knack for staying calm under pressure. “It was pretty incredible. He just looked really strong, and he does a very good job representing the U.S. There was Johnny wearing the colors of the country, and he remained calm and focused. He doesn’t seem to ever get concerned,” she said.

Johnny played hockey in the past, but has truly found his niche with luging, something he has been doing for five years. He has competed at nationals each of the past four years and in March 2014 he will be making the plunge in his fifth national competition.

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

The USA team consisted of one double’s team, one junior member, two youth girls, two junior girls, and then Johnny - the lone youth, solo rider.

This being his first international competition, finishing well inside the top 50 percent is an impressive feat. Both Mr. and Mrs. Gustafson expressed great pride in their son’s accomplishments.

“We got to see his name up on the scoreboard as he goes down and it showed that he was representing the U.S.A. It’s hard to describe how proud I am of him. The announcer announced the names of the sliders as they finished. Both Joanne and I were incredibly proud,” Eric said.

“I did (get emotional). It was a lot different from all of the races here,” Mrs. Gustafson said.

By the time the XXIII Winter Olympics kick off in South Korea on Feb. 9, 2018, Johnny Gustafson will still be a month shy of his 21st birthday. Given his track record, and with his first international luging competition officially under his belt, Eric and Joanne are doing their best to hold back their excitement in the endless possibilities that could await their high-school age son.

“It’s hard to believe that Johnny gets to represent the United States. You never expect that in a million years,” Eric said.

“He is taking it year to year but I think (the Olympics) is his hope, to someday make it,” Mrs. Gustafson added. “Normally I just look at it from year to year, but he looked so calm and confident. I think he has a good chance.”

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