When Pemberton’s Jenna Spencer returns to the Junior World Cup luge circuit next month, her toughest opponent may be her own nerves.
Following a tremendous debut season in youth women’s competition on the tour last winter, Spencer said she’s feeling pressure to improve upon her 2011-12 results.
“My coaches say that I shouldn’t be pressured this year, but I feel like I did so well last year that I have something to live up to this year,” said Spencer, who heads over to Europe for the first bit of her race season on Sunday (Nov. 18).
“Looking back, I know I did really well and this year I want to do better and keep improving.”
The 16-year-old burst onto the scene with top-five finishes in three consecutive Junior World Cup races on North American tracks to start the season. She followed that with a bronze-medal finish at Igls, Austria, in what was her first time sliding over in Europe.
At the end of the season, Spencer ranked fourth on the circuit’s youth division for athletes aged 14 to 17.
The experience Spencer gained on the European tracks last season should come in handy, she said. The circuit will return to Igls and the German tracks at Oberhof and Winterberg, and will also make a stop at Königssee, Germany, where Spencer did not get to race but did have an opportunity to train last winter.
“I think it’s a challenging track, so I’m really glad we went there last year,” she said. “Now, I have the experience and a bunch of runs there, so that should give me an advantage this year.”
It’s the track at Lillehammer, Norway, which hosts the Junior World Cup season-opener on Dec. 8, that has Spencer “scared” since it’s the only one she hasn’t seen before.
“It’s just a whole new experience and it can be pretty scary,” she said.
That said, Spencer said she thinks she’s capable of finishing atop the youth women’s standings this year, and she’s heading into the season as strong as she’s ever been. She’s had a great preseason working with coach Robert Fegg, is racing with a new sled and hasn’t seemed to show any rust in fall workouts at the Whistler and Calgary tracks.
“Over the summer, I’ve gotten a lot stronger. My coach and I have really worked hard on starts and strengthening one of (my weaknesses),” she said. “I feel like I’ve improved a bunch and (Fegg) said that my sliding has been just like I left off at the end of last year.”
Spencer is the first product of the Whistler Sliding Centre to record significant international luge results since the track was built, but she’s expecting many more to follow in her footsteps. Although no other local athletes were able to secure a spot on the Canadian junior teams this year, she said a few aren’t far behind.
“I think they have a lot of potential. Matt Riddle just joined this year and he’s already improved so much — he did better than I did in my first year, definitely,” Spencer said. “Nicole (Pidperyhora) is very strong, has a good work ethic. I like the kids that are coming up … and they just keep getting better.”
Reid Watts and Veronica Ravenna were among other local products who vied for a junior national team spot but were not named to this year’s final squad.
In the meantime, Spencer said it’s a neat distinction to be the first luger to take advantage of the Olympic legacy left behind from the 2010 Games and crack a national team roster that is traditionally filled with Albertans.
“Maybe I get a little special treatment because I’m from B.C.,” she laughed. “But I think it’s helped me and I think it will help the younger kids, too.”