AJ Rosen's luge legacy is ensuring Rupert Staudinger's Winter Olympic fires are burning brighter than ever. The Bath-based 24-year-old is attending his second Games, has consistently improved ahead of Beijing 2022 is heading to the most significant event of his career so far. But that's not what is fuelling Staudinger ahead of the highlight of the luge calendar next month.
Staudinger - born in Berchtesgaden in Bavaria to a British mother and German father - is being motivated by the memory of his friend, mentor and three-time Olympian AJ Rosen, who competed alongside him in Team GB colours at PyeongChang 2018. Rosen passed away in December aged just 37 after a battle with cancer, sparking tributes from across the sporting world, and Staudinger is keen to honour his friend in Beijing. The German-born ace, whose journey to the Games has been fuelled by a £6,000 injection of funding to luge via UK Sport's Beijing Support Fund, said: "I have my helmet on with a little memory saying 'rest in peace AJ', so I'm going to be sliding for him, definitely. This Olympic Winter Games will be for him. "The way he taught me how luge works as well as the way he explained all his experiences just had a massive impact on me. "There's been so much going on recently - negatives, positives, but especially negative moments with AJ's death. "It's unbelievably sad because AJ has been more than a teammate. He's been a really good friend.
"He had such a massive impact on my career, and I think I definitely would not have made it to the last Olympic Winter Games without him. "First of all, my hope for Beijing is just to stay healthy but also just do my best and show the world that we Brits can slide super well, show the world that we and I deserve to be there." In October last year, UK Sport announced a new investment stream for winter sports not currently in receipt of World Class Programme funding in order to lift their preparations for, and performances at, the Olympic Winter Games. And Staudinger was a major beneficiary of the support, with the funding helping pay for him to compete at an Olympic test event in the Chinese capital and the European Championships in St. Moritz.
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Rosen became an icon of luge in Britain after qualifying for the 2006, 2010 and 2018 Games in Torino, Vancouver and PyeongChang respectively. He travelled with Staudinger to PyeongChang, finishing 22nd - 11 places ahead of his younger teammate in 33rd. This time around, Staudinger will be Team GB's lone luge representative and is still coming to terms with becoming a two-time Olympian. "It feels unreal to be selected to represent Team GB at another Winter Olympics. But, if I'm honest, it still hasn't really sunk in because of all these Covid restrictions," added Staudinger.
"Always being in that bubble, everything being a bit of a stress and a hassle to make sure everything's fine. "But I'm starting to realise now like, 'wow, I'm going again to the Olympic Winter Games' and it's just unbelievable. I'm so proud to be part of this amazing team once again. "It really does feel a bit unreal with all the circumstances around it, that it's actually happening and I'm actually going, whereas four years ago I was just like 'ok, WOW!' "Four years ago, it was just crazy, just mad and everyone was so hyped - I had family trying to book tickets to get to the venue. "This time, it's just me that's going. I don't have a teammate with me, so it will feel different but I'm still super happy to go."
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