Sgt. Matt Mortensen is accustomed to wearing a variety of United States Army uniforms. During the winter, he puts on a much different uniform.
The 32-year-old from Huntington Station will compete in luge in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, beginning on Feb. 9. Luge is a sport in which a competitor or two-person team ride a sled down a curvy ice track while lying face up and feet first.
Mortensen is part of the Army World Class Athlete Program, which he said allows roughly 80 athletes to compete in elite level sports while simultaneously serving in the military.
“I’m a multi-functional person, so I don’t think it’s terribly difficult,” Mortensen said. “I don’t think it’s the lifestyle for everybody, but for me, it opened up a doorway. Without this program, I don’t think I’d still be in the sport.”
Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman comprise USA Luge’s top doubles team. Mortensen competed with a different partner, Preston Griffall, in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but teamed with Terdiman in March 2014.
His goal in his second Olympics is to medal, more so than it was in his first go-round. Then, he said he earned invaluable experience. Now as a veteran athlete, he wants a spot on the podium.
“For me, walking into that opening ceremonies was like the dream of my life,” he said. “This time, I’m coming in with a bit more experience. This time I’m actually a medal contender. I’m not going just to partake in the competition, per say.”
Mortensen has taken first-time Olympian Justin Krewson of Eastport under his wing. Krewson, 21, now lives in Lake Placid at the Olympic Training Center and is a volunteer fireman in the town.
Krewson was the 2014 Norton Junior National Champion and won a gold medal in the 2012 Empire State Games. Now, he’s doing what he can to learn from Mortensen.
“I feel luge is more of a mental game, especially when we’re traveling,” said Krewson, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout in August 2014. “It’s really about finding that happy place and finding what works well and how you’ll slide the best going down the track.
“Matt is a mentor to me. He is such a huge help. He’s been sliding for so long, and he’s such a good friend. He explains things so well. If I need help, Matt’s there and he always has my back.”
Krewson and his partner, Andrew Sherk, are direct competitors of Mortensen and Terdiman in doubles, but Mortensen said he feels it’s his responsibility to assist younger teammates.
“Our generation is really trying to create a culture of openness with the other athletes,” said Mortensen, a nearly eight-year veteran of the Army who has been in the Athlete program for six years. “When I see a younger doubles team coming up, I do try to give them advice and steer them in the right direction.”
Both sliders took interesting paths to the pinnacle of the sport. Mortensen began to luge in 1996 after Verizon, the sport’s main sponsor at the time, offered an introductory event. Because his father worked at Verizon, Mortensen took part.
Krewson first learned of luge during a chance encounter at an Islanders game with Adam Heidt, an athlete from Northport who competed in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Team USA’s best chance at a medal is in the relay event, according to Mortensen, though the talented team could challenge in doubles, women’s singles and men’s singles.
Regardless of his results, Mortensen’s impact on the team has already been made.
“It’s a very honorable position to be in,” Mortensen said. “You’re not carrying yourself as just an American athlete, you’re carrying yourself as an American soldier.”