Julia Clukey hasn’t been as successful as she hoped to be so far during this World Cup luge season.
But the 29-year-old Augusta native is focused on longer-range goals, which she hopes will get a jump-start this weekend at the 45th International Luge Federation World Championships in Sigulda, Latvia.
Clukey and the U.S. luge team — which is having one of its best seasons in international competition — will join 20 other nations from North America, Europe and Asia for the sport’s biggest non-Olympic showcase on Friday and Saturday.
“The track’s in really great shape, probably the best it’s ever been here in Sigulda,” Clukey said during a Monday conference call from the site, where the U.S. contingent has been training for the past week. “It’s a difficult track and oftentimes we see bumpier conditions than we’re seeing this week so that’s been nice.
“It hasn’t been super cold but they’ve done a good job of maintaining the ice and making sure that it’s fast for every training session so it’s been pretty consistent training and should leave us well prepared for the weekend.”
Clukey, a 2010 U.S. Olympian who missed qualifying for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, by 13-thousandths of a second, is ranked fourth among the four-person U.S. women’s team and 17th overall among the 40 women’s sliders at the world championships.
Her best individual result this winter was an eighth-place finish in early December at the World Cup stop at her home track in Lake Placid, New York. Clukey failed to qualify for the finals of the most recent World Cup event on Jan. 31 in Lillehammer, Norway.
“When I started out this season, a lot of things kind of backfired and it was a slow process to begin with,” said Clukey,” who finished fifth in the 2009 world championships at Lake Placid. “Then the mental aspect started to kick in as well so I was fighting through a lot of different things.
“But I’m looking at the bigger picture of things, which is 2018 (the next Winter Olympics slated for Pyeongchang, South Korea) and getting back to the podium level. Sometimes it takes longer than you anticipate and the work you’re putting in doesn’t pay off right away. But I’m confident that it will in time.”
Much of Clukey’s battle has involved familiarizing herself with new equipment designed to increase her speed down the ice tracks.
“Like other people I’m on some new equipment this year,” she said. “I could have played it safe and stayed on my old sled for another year but I really knew that I would be lucky to be in the top six or top eight and that’s not what I want. I want to be at the podium level.”
Clukey believes she has made progress toward maximizing her speed on the new equipment, and has appreciated the patience of those on the U.S. team.
“I’ve probably gone through about 10 different setups and I’m very thankful for the coaching staff for sticking with me,” she said. “I finally feel like I have the right setup underneath me and I can now really focus on my sliding and doing my job on the hill, which I haven’t been doing.
“I really haven’t felt comfortable on the sled so I’m grateful to be here for another opportunity to keep sliding and getting runs and getting back to the necessary form that I need to do so I can get back to being a top competitor.”
The changes to Clukey’s sled largely involve how it steers as well as its suspension system, which keeps the ride as smooth as possible at speeds that can reach 70 to 80 mph on lower sections of the course.
“When I’m sitting at the start handles I want to know that I’m going to be in control and the sled is going to run well underneath me and not feel skittish or insecure,” Clukey said.
Clukey is joined on the U.S. women’s luge team by Emily Sweeney, a 21-year-old Falmouth native who moved with her family to Connecticut in 2003, as well as 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Erin Hamlin and fellow 2014 Olympian Summer Britcher.
All three of Clukey’s teammates have recorded top-five finishes on the World Cup circuit this season.
“Really the team as a whole has had one of the best seasons since I’ve been a part of the national team,” said Clukey.