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Jack Elder turned 15 minutes of luge practice into an Olympic appearance

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Jack Elder walked on to the world luge championships in Davos, Switzerland, sled in hand and raced his first competitive race.

"When I had got there, I had never gone down a sled run in competition," Elder said. "I had probably been on a sled for 15 minutes."

Elder, a Seattle native, first picked up a sled in 1965 in Garmisch, Germany where he was stationed in the US Army. While there, Elder saw an Olympic athlete in a USA jacket.

"He had on a red, white and blue outfit with USA on it, and I walked up to him and said, 'Where did you get that?' He said, 'I was in the Olympic games in Innsbruck.' I asked him what he did, thinking, 'Anything he can, do I can do.' He told me to go and find the luge coach, and I did," Elder recounted recently.

A few weeks later, and Elder was in his first competitive race, at the 1965 Luge World Championships. Elder, still learning how to drive it, finished 63rd out of 120 competitors.

Elder stuck to luge and kept training, eventually competing at three other world championships in 1967, '70 and '71, with regular top-20 finishes. In 1972, he made the Olympic team for luge doubles in Sapporo, Japan.

"I was racing against myself, to find out whether or not I could do better," Elder told NewsChannel 21. "I beat the other Americans, I beat the Canadians, and I beat the Brits. And I beat the people I was supposed to, so it was a good time.”

It was a top 15 finish for Elder at the Olympics, his team's first competitive race of that year.

"Our first race of that season was the Olympics," Elder said. "We didn’t race in any other races. We didn’t get on any other track, except the Olympic track."

It would be Elder's only Olympic Games, but not his only Olympic experience. After the Games, Elder moved to Bend and worked in radio. A few years later, he was approached to help a Portland bid to host the Olympics. Mount Bachelor would be the designated site for women's alpine events. The amount of money to bid and host the games though, knocked Portland out of the running.

"In 1990, we finally admitted the city of Portland was not going to be entering a bid for the winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City,” Elder said. "Cities that bid have to bid again and again. I don’t believe that the cash flow is here in Oregon to continue to do that process over a four-decade span.”

Elder now 80, lives in Portland and works as a volunteer curator for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

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Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.

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