By Gabriella Levine
Union has two special ties to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games: Tucker West ’17, a member of the U.S. Olympic Luge Team, and Julie Chu, a forward on the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team and Union’s former assistant women’s ice hockey coach.
West hails from Ridgefield, Connecticut, and, at the age of 18, is the youngest-ever male member of the U.S. Olympic Luge Team. This upcoming spring term in April, West will be joining the Class of 2017 at Union.
Chu, who also grew up in Connecticut, worked at Union for three years and served as assistant coach of the women’s hockey team for the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 seasons.
In an interview with the Concordiensis, West said that Union was an “easy choice” when he was looking at colleges as a prospective student.
“With the trimester academic calendar, I’ll be able to continue my sliding career while still getting the full college experience,” he said.
West’s interest in men’s luge began in 2002, when he was watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games with his father, Brett West. “We thought that the luge event was so cool that we should try it for ourselves,” West explained.
And try it they did. West and his father proceeded to build their own sledding hills, and eventually had the idea to build a small version of a luge track.
“We ended up building a big wooden ‘luge track’ in our backyard that we would ice down and slide on everyday. The track wasn’t actually a real luge track, it was more of a sledding hill, but in essence that’s how I started the sport.”
Now, 12 years later, West has numerous accolades in men’s luge. In 2011, West became the youngest ever U.S. start champion titlist at age 16; in 2012, he tied with Chris Mazder for the title of U.S. champion, was named the U.S. start champion and won gold in the team relay at the Winter Youth Olympic Games; and in 2013, West was a Junior World Cup Team Relay bronze medalist.
But his biggest accomplishment to date is his spot on the U.S. Olympics Luge Team, which he refers to as a “dream come true.”
“I’ve been dreaming about this all my life, so to finally be here is very surreal,” West stated.
As a newcomer to the Olympic scene, West has had many surreal moments thus far at the Sochi games.
“My favorite experience so far is definitely the opening ceremonies. Having the whole team marching in was not only a huge honor but very humbling,” West remarked.
At the opening ceremonies, West pointed out that he was honored to march “with all of Team USA alongside big names in sports such as Shaun White or Bode Miller.”
Dean of First Year Students Kate Schurick stayed up until midnight this past Saturday to watch West’s first run. “I am looking forward to welcoming Tucker to campus and wish him well at the Olympics and in all of his future competitions,” Schurick said.
West finished 22nd overall and second among the American Men’s Team in the men’s single luge competition at Sochi.
Following his first-ever Olympic performance, the media attention for West only escalated when his father appeared on the Today Show and urged women to send his “shy” and “very single” son messages and tweets on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TeamTucker.
Shortly thereafter, #TeamTucker became a viral sensation as thousands of ladies responded to the request. According to the Today Show, West’s Facebook page gained more than 2,000 fans overnight.
Whereas West is reveling in his first trip with Team USA to the Games, Julie Chu is considered a veteran among the athletes of the winter Olympics.
In 2002, Chu became the first Asian American women to play for the U.S. women’s hockey team at the Salt Lake City Games, earning a silver medal for Team USA.
From 2002-2007, Chu played college hockey at Harvard University, where she served as team captain and was coached by current Head Coach of Union’s Women’s Hockey Claudia Barcomb.
“She was a very talented player at Harvard, one of the best while she was there,” Barcomb stated.
At the end of her senior season at Harvard, Chu received the Patty Kazmaier award, signifying the top player in women’s college hockey.
In 2006, Chu racked up another medal, this time bronze, at the Turin Winter Gxames. In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Chu took home the silver medal with Team USA. From 2007-2010, Chu played professional hockey for the Minnesota Whitecaps, and in 2010, she joined the Montreal Stars.
Chu arrived at Union as assistant coach of women’s hockey during the 2010-2011 season and became an instant source of inspiration for Union’s players.
“She worked hard and made our team better with her knowledge of the game and her general upbeat personality,” Barcomb said.
Union’s Team Captain Maddy Norton ’14 explained that, to the Dutchwomen, the decorated Olympic athlete became known as “Chuey.”
“Julie Chu’s first year of coaching here at Union was my freshman year. Chuey was a successful Olympian way before I knew her from Union. Going into freshman year with her there as a coach was very intimidating, having looked up to her since I was probably 12,” Norton said.
Barcomb believes that, outside of Chu’s athletic success, her best role is as “a leader and role model to many girls in the United States.”
During Chu’s time as assistant coach, Norton noted that she “suited up in full gear” for every practice, participated in every drill, and even joined the team in every “skating punishment.”
“Chuey will continue to be the icon of USA women’s hockey for a long time—as she should be,” Team Captain Ashley Johnston ‘14 stated.
Speaking for the Dutchwomen, Norton described “Chuey” as a source of pride for Union’s team: “We have so much respect for her talent and work ethic on and off the ice. We are so proud of her well-deserved Olympic success.”
At 31, Chu is currently the oldest member of the U.S. team, and is hoping to take home her fourth medal at the Sochi games — but this time, she’s going for the gold.
On Feb. 8, Team USA beat Finland 3-1 and Switzerland 9-0 on Feb. 10. The next matchup on Team USA’s schedule is Canada on Feb. 12. The results of the game were not known as of press time.
College President Stephen Ainlay is proud to see two members of the Union community participating in the Olympic Games.
“I think it is very exciting that Tucker will be a student at Union College and that he’s participating in the winter games. I watched his interview on network television [on Monday] and he represented us very well,” Ainlay stated.
“While not a Union student or alumnus, I think it’s also very exciting that Julie Chu is also participating in the games,” he continued.
Ainlay also offered words of encouragement for the two Olympians: “I wish them both well and hope they enjoy this remarkable experience.”