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FREE TALK with Toboggan flea Tina Unterberger

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Natural track luge athlete Tina Unterberger is World & State Champion and since 2018, she has an even firmer grip on the luge thanks to ESKA gloves.

Tina Unterberger is a member of the Austrian national natural track luge team and World Cup winner & national champion several times over. Since 2018 she has had a firm grip on the toboggans with ESKA gloves. The lovable ice-focused adrenalin junkie chatted with us about tobogganing, the best runs, the difference between natural track and conventional luge runs, and how she prepares for her races. Have fun browsing!

What made you start natural track tobogganing and how did you get your nickname the “Toboggan flea”?

In my hometown Bad Goisern am Hallstättersee, the natural track luge used to be almost a religion back in the day (Gerhard Pilz, 5-time World Champion, Reinhard Beer, 2-time World Champion, both from Bad Goisern). In 1994, my family and I watched the World Championships held in Goisern. I immediately found the sport mega fascinating when watching pressed up against the fence, and after a trial training session I had my first international race in 1996...and have not left the track since then it seems. I have since become an old face on the scene.

I owe my nickname toboggan flea- surprisingly - to my size. With my 159.5 cm and 49 kg, I am one of the smallest and lightest in the sport...I have long since given up the hope to grow any more...upwards at least! 😉

What is the difference between natural toboggan runs and conventional toboggan runs?

The difference can be easily compared with normal ski runs and FIS World Championship ski runs. We natural toboggan runners ride on icy, steep toboggan runs whose bends are protected with wooden planksor “batten walls”, as they are more colloquially known). For this reason, the material (rails) is also prepared by my service technician over the course of many hours of high-precision handiwork, while the toboggan is a special production and comes from an Italian specialist. A comparison to Alpine skiing makes sense here too. We “normal mortals” would probably not be able to control the skis of World Championship skiers, which have been engineered using cutting edge technology. But at first glance, they don't look much different from normal skis engineered using basic technology.

On our natural track, helmetsmust be worn, and all non-professional tobogganers are recommended to do the same. At the start, we push off using two brackets and accelerate with additional “penguin paddle strokes”. We press our Tatzler(= metal pins mounted on the gloves) firmly into the ice 3 to 4 times and in doing so generate even more speed. Shifting our weightto the inside of the bend and laying the hand on the inside of the bend out flat results in a typical steering motion, just like in conventional tobogganing. Here, the choice of gloves is decisive, because on the one hand the protection for the fingers is enormously important, and on the other hand the necessary grip on the steering reins must be guaranteed. In order to regulate the speed before the bends (just like you would when driving a car), we have fitted spikes to the soles of our shoes. These are put into the ice in order to brake. We also need these (incredibly chic silver) leather shoes to carry our sled (14 kg) back to the start line. Ii doing so, we examine the track and see how it has changed (just like in slalom with the skis, the razor-sharp runners on toboggans create ruts and troughs on the ideal line, which can be decisive in shaving that extra hundredth of a second off our run time).

How do you prepare for a race and what do you wear?

After the track inspection and the warm-up, I go down the track once more in my head and concentrate on the critical points. (braking & turning points, ideal line, etc.). Then I carry my toboggan to the starting hut, where the safety featuresare checked along with the weight, and the runners are measured(temperature, inclination,...). When the athlete in front of me has started their descent, I check the starting track again, position my toboggan, and adopt my seating position on it. Then I check my helmet and goggles one final time, make sure the spike plateis clean, and tighten my gloves. I mentally go down the track one last time, slap my thighs, take a deep breath and wait for the light to turn green. Then I would have 15 seconds to complete the start - but I’m usually already gone!

Clothing:

  • Helmet with matching ski goggles
  • ESKA gloves with Tatzler
  • Racing suit, including long functional underwear and shin guards
  • Brake shoes with spikes (“superfancy” and also supercold, because the TheHeatcompany toe warmers regularly prove themselves life-saving)

What do you think about while you are tobogganing, or are you completely focused the whole time?

There's a lot going through my head. Most of the time, I analyse my passage through every bend (material, track, entry point, speed, position,...) and how to approach the next bend. So from a sports psychologist's perspective, I try to stay in the here and now and to take things one bend at a time. But at the same time, I have to gather information for my service technician so that we can continue refining the setup. Some claim that when I was small (meaning young), I often sought out my parents or friends in the crowd, and would sometimes even wave when riding past (the presumption of innocence applies here).

What are your favourite toboggan runs?

For me, the best toboggan runs are the older ones. They are usually very fast, steep and technically challenging. The track in Oberperfuss (T) for instance has been given its nickname for good reason: Stripe of the natural track luge athlete.

I also like theparallel run in Kühtai. Here, every year a completely new ice run is prepared for the start of the World Championship. This means that the run is different every time - you hardly have time to learn it before the race, and since the organizers usually like to surpass themselves each year, it becomes more challenging with every passing year!

What were your greatest achievements?

  • My first World Championship victory
  • Team World and European Champion
  • Taking home the bronze at the World and European Championships

What's your training like this summer?

As we all know, luge athletes are made in summer, so we start at the end of spring with the physical conditioningfor the upcoming winter season. We take advantage of the opportunity to do some asphalt runs on the toboggan in summer. (equipped with the same equipment, the same steering and braking movement, with 10 inline skate wheels left and right).

Do you have any tips & tricks?

Even though you might find it tempting in the hut: Don't drink and drive!

More tips:

Let me show you a few tricks right now!

Thank you, dear Tina, for the insight into the luge athlete's world and the extremely interesting conversation! 🙂

Tina Unterberger Facebook Profile

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Fotocredit: ÖRV/Brenoix

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