SHELBY TOWNSHIP — In large letters on his Shelby Township storefront window, Jeff Scheuer, 49, of Rochester Hills, congratulates Erin Hamlin, the first American Olympian to medal in singles luge and the first female American to medal in luge at the Olympics.
The window of Mattress To Go, located on Van Dyke Avenue, between 23 Mile and 24 Mile roads, reads, “USA ERIN HAMLIN WINS LUGE BRONZE.”
Scheuer, an amateur luge athlete in the 1980s and into the ’90s, worked as the strength and conditioning and start coach for the U.S. national luge team and went to the 1994 winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
“I was so psyched and so happy (when I saw Hamlin’s win on the live stream on my computer),” he said. “You follow the sport for so long and see the efforts pay off and know everybody in the program. … I got a little misty-eyed.”
He said he would keep the sign up at Mattress To Go through the end of the games so that when people came in asking about it, he could spread the word about luge.
Scheuer retired from coaching and returned to Michigan to assist his dad with the mattress store, but Scheuer still works on a volunteer basis to provide biomechanical start-motion advice and develop training programs for junior athletes. The senior athletes, such as Hamlin, have their own coaches, he said.
“It’s amazing how fast they can send me videos to take a look at,” Scheuer said. “Back in the day, I had to shuffle back and forth to get through the grain (of VHS tapes) to see what was going on. Now, they can just send a file to upload.”
He said he enjoys being able to continue providing input.
“It’s something I do to try to get my brain stimulated and give back,” he said.
As a wrestler and athlete in high school, Scheuer said luge caught his attention as a unique and challenging sport.
The risks, however, can be great.
Scheuer had 13 orthopedic surgeries — two that took him out of contention as a senior luge athlete. He landed on his neck while doing a backflip at the U.S. training facility in Lake Placid, N.Y., and, later, blew out his knee while running a new sled down a course that had some tragically “grippy” ice.
Thankfully, he said, a coaching position was open when he recovered.
Scheuer’s degree in exercise science with concentrations in applied anatomy and biochemical analysis from Michigan State lends to his coaching and developmental abilities.
“People think when you’re on the sled lying down, you’re not doing anything, but luge is the most steerable and difficult to steer,” Scheuer said. “The only way to go fast is to be as relaxed as possible, which is not a natural reaction when you’re going 80 miles per hour and know that if you crash, it’s going to hurt quite a bit.”
He said explosive core and lower back strength, conditioning neck and leg muscles, vestibular training, start-motion technique and an understanding of pressures and diving lines are all very important to shaving off thousandths of a second, which ultimately matter in high stakes competitions, such as the Olympics.
“If you read about the Lillehammer games, they are still rated the best overall Olympic (winter) games,” Scheuer said. “(Lillehammer) had a small-town feel, great weather, the snow came out of the sky, it was cold and there was no issue with the ice.”
He added that he was fortunate to be able to attend, but was mostly there for business and flew out after the luge events.
“Luge is one of the first events in the games, as the bobsleds chew up the ice,” he said. “The athletes got to stay through the end of the games, and they earned it.”
Scheuer added that he received exuberant phone calls from luge athletes who secured bronze and silver medals in the 1998 winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, as well as the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Fred Zimny, the junior national team coach who worked as the senior national team manager for the previous 16 years, and who has been to the last four winter Olympics, was at the clinic in which Hamlin, now 27, was discovered when she was 12 years old.
“Jeff is the most knowledgeable person, probably, in the U.S. for developing training programs for the luge program. He is our go-to guy,” Zimny said.
He added that international accomplishments like Hamlin’s do not happen overnight — it has taken her 15 years to develop the skills that earned her an Olympic medal. The three-time Olympian also secured a gold medal in luge singles at the 2009 World Championship in Lake Placid, N.Y, as well as medals at prior World Cups.
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