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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 15:46 GMT

Luger makes Olympic history

Luger Dinah Browne is ready for a place in the history books whether she does well at the Salt Lake City Games or not.

Browne, flying the flag for the US Virgin Islands, is about to become the first black woman to compete in the luge at the Winter Olympics.

It is a dream come true for the 32-year-old, who was in college before she saw her first snowflake and only sat on her first sled three years ago.

"I thought, 'Wow, I never planned this!'" explained Browne.

"What I enjoy most about the luge is that because it's so new to me, I'm constantly learning"
Dinah Browne

"Being the first of something may not pay off for me, but it may pay off for someone else. You hope others will follow."

Browne first donned a crash helmet and hurtled down a tube of ice at a two-week training camp in Calgary when she was 29.

The camp was designed to broaden the luge's appeal in smaller countries outside Europe where the high-speed sport has long been popular, and it certainly had an effect on Browne.

Despite growing up in the tropics, she showed a natural talent and became hooked on the sport after qualifying for her first World Cup event in December 2000.

Spurred on by her speedy progress, Browne took time off from her teaching job to spend her winters touring the luge circuit in Europe and North America.

"I had a vague notion of what the sport was," she said.

"Then they gave me a helmet, and I was like, 'Oh. You need a helmet?' It was a real natural feeling."

Her participation will evoke memories of the Jamaican bobsleigh team, whose Winter Olympics efforts inspired the film Cool Runnings.

Browne will represent the US Virgin Islands, which has a separate Olympic team because it is a US territory and not a state.

She is not perturbed by a sport that requires her to hurtle down a long winding tube on her back, feet first, at dangerously high speeds of near 90 mph (145 kph).

"You get some bruises sometimes. Maybe sometimes someone breaks an arm or something," she said.

"I say to myself, 'I can conquer this track.' You think about each turn, if you should go in early, if you should take it high or low."

Browne, who grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, knows she may not be in the medal stakes this time around but expects to be in contention for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.

"In another four years, I'll be a very strong competitor," said Browne.

She jhad her best runs at a race last month in Sigulda, Latvia, clinching 31st place - about four seconds behind winner Silke Kraushaar of Germany.

"What I enjoy most about the luge is that because it's so new to me, I'm constantly learning. I haven't reached my plateau."

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