BY PAUL BETIT

Portland Press Herald

After missing a full season of competition, Augusta native and 2010 Olympic luger Julia Clukey was happy with her third-place finish in the Norton National Championships at Lake Placid.

Clukey, out since having surgery to correct a congenital condition that limited blood flow to her spinal column, finished behind five-time national champion Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., and Emily Sweeney, a former Falmouth resident who now lives in Suffield, Conn.

“Over the course of the two days, I had four pretty consistent runs,” Clukey said. “I made a mistake (Tuesday) in my first run that cost me a bit of time. Overall, I’m just happy to be back racing, and it was just tight, close racing.”

Two weeks ago, Sweeney, the younger sister of 2010 Olympian Megan Sweeney, won the junior national championship in Park City, Utah.

“I was in second place today by 200ths of a second, which is a fingernail in our sport over the course of two miles when you add up the two runs,” Clukey said.

Seven women competed in the event.

Clukey, 26, had hoped to compete this winter on the World Cup circuit, but the surgery, to correct a condition known as Chiari Syndrome, generally takes a year of recovery time.

“I took the season (off) and just focused on my health, focused on my sliding,” she said. “Taking out the travel really helped me to heal fully, and I’m looking forward to go into my offseason training and get my strength back where it can be. Right now, I know I’m not as strong as I need to be.”

Clukey plans to compete for one of two slots on the national team at trials that will be held at Lake Placid next fall.

“The most important thing for me was to get back into competition,” she said. “I’ll use my seeding here and look at the times and make a training plan for myself this spring and summer for this year’s team trials.”

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