LAKE PLACID - If Tuffy Latour sees the kind of success guiding the U.S. skeleton team at the Sochi Olympics that he did four years ago, leading the Canadian bobsledders at the Vancouver Winter Games, the Americans should be in for a memorable trip to Russia.
Latour, a father of two and a resident of Saranac Lake, is an experienced bobsled and skeleton coach. After coaching U.S. bobsledders in the early 2000s, he accepted a similar job with Canada's team prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where he saw the Canadian women grab the gold and silver medals and their four-man team win a bronze medal.
Now Latour is working for his native United States as the head skeleton coach in an effort to help turn that program into one of the world's best. And with the likes of athletes Noelle Pikus-Pace, Katie Uhlaender, Matt Antoine and John Daly, Latour has plenty to work with. Latour is back at home in the Adirondacks this week for the FIBT bobsled and skeleton World Cup races at Mount Van Hoevenberg outside Lake Placid.
U.S. skeleton team coach Tuffy Latour, of Saranac Lake, poses on the job during Wednesday’s World Cup training session near the starting line of the Mount Van Hoevenberg track outside Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"Seeing what the Canadians did at the Olympics in Whistler was huge for me," Latour said. "Although Pierre Lueders won several medals at the World Cup level, we hadn't won any major titles up to that point. When I started coaching the U.S. skeleton team, the goal from the get go has been to get these kids up to a world-class level. That's where Canada was in terms of the 2010 games."
Latour has family ties to the Adirondacks dating back to the 1870s, and his grandfather Tuffield was a bobsledder in the 1948 Winter Olympics. But as a child, he wasn't very connected to either the Adirondacks or sliding sports.
Latour never met his grandfather, who died before he was born, and growing up in Schenectady, Tuffy wasn't involved in bobsledding during his early life. As a youngster, he played hockey instead. Reading about bobsledding while he was serving in the Air Force in Germany first piqued his interest in the sport.
His eight years as a bobsledder were highlighted by a ninth-place finish in the 1995 four-man World Championships, and as a skeleton racer he was ranked as high as fifth nationally. His career as an athlete ended in the mid 1990s but not his career in the sport, as he took on administrative and coaching roles for the American team. One of his biggest satisfactions came at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when the U.S. captured the gold medal in the debut of women's bobsledding at the winter games.
"I realized back in 2002, when Jill Bakken came out with that gold medal, the things that happen behind the scenes are what matter the most. There's a lot of guiding going on, and I was happy to be part of that."
During the next two seasons, Latour saw his Americans capture silver and bronze in four-man at the World Championships, but shortly after, the United States Bobsled Federation fell into a state of disarray. That helped prompt Latour to take a job opening for the Canadian team in 2007, a position he held through the end of the 2010 season.
"There's always that loyalty to your nation, but having international coaches is not uncommon," Latour said. "We had a Latvian coach when I was competing. Things weren't good with the federation when I left. We had four CEOs in six months. It was chaotic."
After watching Canada's impressive performance at the Vancouver Olympics, Latour returned to his home country to start coaching the U.S. skeleton sliders in June 2010.
"Leaving the Canadian team was a tough choice. I had a four-year contract on the table," he said. "But (USBSF CEO) Darrin Steele told me, 'Listen, I need somebody to run the skeleton program.' I spent one year racing skeleton, I was familiar with the sport, and I took the job."
Now as the U.S. skeleton team's head coach, Latour's mission is to help provide athletes with everything they need - physically, mentally and logistically - to be the best in the world.
"In 2011, we started building the program from the bottom up, and it's expected to be an eight-year process," he said. "We're trying to get them the best stuff out there, stuff that's all made in America. We're working very, very hard to get them into the best speed suits, the best and safest helmets, the best sleds.
"As coach, my vision is to get these kids to believe in themselves," Latour continued. "We have the Olympics coming up, and no matter what anyone says, the Olympics is not just another. The Olympics is a special race. All the athletes will be on an even playing field starting that first heat. Whether they are at the top of the standings or near the bottom, they will all have butterflies in their stomachs."
Latour described himself as a calm coach who doesn't yell. He said there are about 60 athletes sliding with the U.S. skeleton program, ranging in age from 19 up into their mid 30s. And he has plenty of confidence in the racers who are leading the way.
"Right now, with (the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority's) development program, and with the program we have in Utah, things are looking bright," Latour said. "Our top athletes, they are good. They are very good."
Latour is the father of two children, T.J. and Hannah, and the husband of Kathy Latour, an English teacher at Saranac Lake High School.
Contact Lou Reuter at 518-891-2600 ext. 29 or firstname.lastname@example.org.