Unlike most who get the rare chance to compete at the highest level of their sport, when Veronica Ravenna lines up for her runs on the luge track at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games this February, she’ll be representing not just one, but two places she holds dear to her heart.
Born in Argentina, Ravenna and her family moved to Whistler when she was six years old.
She fell in love with luge after a field trip to the Whistler Sliding Centre when she was 11 years old gave her a taste of the sport.
Now 23, Ravenna has already competed for her home country in the Olympics once before at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, and is on track to make her second straight Olympic appearance in Beijing.
And even though, when the time comes, she’ll be donning the sky blue of the Argentina flag instead of the red and white, she still hopes to make Whistler proud.
“It’s definitely the best of both worlds, because I get to represent where I came from, where all my family came from, all my cousins and all our first friends,” she said. “But then I also get to represent the town that kind of made me, the town that gave me the opportunity to get to where I am to be able to represent my home country.”
Ravenna has been competing internationally for Argentina for close to six years now, with her first exposure to the team being the lead up to the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, an experience she calls “maybe the best week of my life.”
The opportunity came up after Ravenna missed a few races while recovering from an injury she suffered in a crash in Whistler. But until she got the call from the Argentina Luge Federation asking her why she wasn’t competing anymore, Ravenna didn’t even know competing for her home country was a possibility in a sport like luge.
“I heard my parents mention [sliding for Argentina] before, but it was never my intention. I didn’t know that it was possible. [I didn’t know] they had a team, that they had coaches, that it was something that could actually happen. I thought it was more just, ‘oh wouldn’t it be cool if you represented Argentina,’” she said. “I always thought it was only places that had Olympic tracks. I didn’t know about all these small countries that don’t have luge tracks but have the ability to still compete.”
Despite describing competing for Argentina as “amazing,” there are still some challenges that come with competing for a country with a less-established Olympic program. Ravenna and her family are often left to their own devices to coordinate tickets and insurance, as well as other things, that many bigger Olympic committees would normally take care of for their athletes.
And of course, it also means she doesn’t get to spend as much time with her first luge family that she grew up sliding with, as they now have different schedules and training routines and facilities.
“I spend a lot more time here in Germany where our training base is. We still all follow the same World Cup circuit, so we’re all there every week. But in the summer, I do have to do my training alone or with a few other trainers in Whistler. But I don’t train at the Canadian Sports Institute or with a big team, it’s just me,” she said.
“I find it’s sometimes harder to get motivated when it’s just yourself at the gym versus when you’re there with your five or six closest friends. So that was a little bit hard—kind of having to separate from these people that I’ve done almost everything with for the last four or so years.”
However, it’s not all bad news. According to Ravenna, being with a smaller federation makes it feel more family-like than some bigger teams, which can sometimes treat the athletes who are struggling as replaceable commodities.
Plus, due to a new rule for qualification put in place this year because of the unbalanced way the pandemic affected the ability for smaller countries to attend the World Cup last season, sliding for Argentina will make it easier for Ravenna to qualify for the upcoming Games.
Instead of going down the rankings and taking the top three from each country—the way athletes are normally selected—this year they will first be taking one person from each country represented in the top 40 before moving on to a country’s second and third ranked athletes, meaning Ravenna, if in the top 40, will get her selection before any country’s second ranked athletes.
With the 2022 Beijing Olympics less than two months away, Ravenna looks back on her experience in PeyongChang in 2018. And despite finishing 24th out of 30 as a 19-year-old and missing her goal of making the top 20, she looks back on the experience with nothing but pride and fondness.
“It was so surreal. From the first moment in the opening ceremonies where you went and saw hundreds of people. And then you got home, and you saw all the messages from all your friends and family—that was amazing,” said Ravenna.
“And it was such a family event. [My family] have all sacrificed so much, so it was incredible to get to share it with them. And then we spent a few days for my birthday exploring Seoul. I would never really get to explore South Korea with my family. It’s not really a common vacation location. So it was an amazing two weeks.”
Looking ahead to Beijing, Ravenna has the same goal of making the top 20 in mind. But with the ongoing pandemic not allowing family to attend the Games, as well as enforcing stricter rules on the athletes, it’s not looking like the ideal situation to celebrate what might be her last Olympic Games before she steps away to focus on her education.
“I’m really hoping that they’re still able to capture what the Olympics are all about and make it a positive environment. When we went there [a few weeks ago,] it wasn’t the most positive experience. We weren’t really able to leave the hotel, so I just hope that they’re able to capture all the positivity and everything that the Olympics means, regardless of what’s going on in the world,” she said.
“I don’t feel like these Olympics will really match what the others were. It’s definitely hard because I really wanted my family to be able to be there because they’ve been my No. 1 team. They were there when I changed teams, they were there when it was just me alone, so I really wish I could celebrate the ending of this chapter with them.”
While no decisions have been decided yet on her future after Beijing, if these do end up being her last Winter Olympics, Ravenna is just glad to have had the opportunity to share the full Olympic experience with her family at least once in 2018, before taking on the next chapter of her life.
This article is part of a series of profile stories highlighting athletes heading to the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games, or those who hope to make it there. For others go to piquenewsmagazine.com.