Memorable weekend for Morris
LAKE PLACID — Of all the veterans on the United States luge national team, Taylor Morris had a weekend to remember in Lake Placid.
On Friday, the native of Salt Lake City, Utah nailed down his first trip to the Olympics with a fifth-place finish in men’s singles on the opening day of the World Cup at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
And then, he finished as the American’s lone medalist on Saturday, sliding to a bronze in the sprint races that wrapped up this winter’s World Cup tour stop in the Olympic Village.
The performance by Morris no doubt left another one of his luge memories well in the past. Four years ago, at the same time of the year, Morris fell short of qualifying for the 2014 Winter Games, after a mere margin of four-one-thousands of a seconds left the 26-year-old off the U.S. roster heading to Sochi, Russia.
Morris is one of 10 USA Luge athletes who were officially named to the Olympic squad, which will compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea in less than two months.
Saturday’s races kicked off with the two-heat women’s singles competition, and concluded with doubles, women’s and men’s sprints, which were one-run contests featuring 15 racer-fields in each discipline.
Saturday marked Erin Hamlin’s final international competition on the same track where she made history by winning the 2009 women’s singles World Championship title, which ended a 99-race win streak by the powerful German program.
This time around, however, the results didn’t quite go the way the native of the southwestern Adirondack town of Remsen would have preferred. After standing in third place following her opening run, Hamlin dropped off the podium on her next trip while finishing in sixth place during a morning of racing on a fast track made trickier by a dumping of snow.
Hamlin’s two-run total of 1 minute, 28.475 seconds was a little more than a quarter second behind the race winner, Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, who is the defending Olympic champion and one of the most decorated female luge athletes in the history of the sport. Geisenberger put down the fastest run in the first heat and the third-quickest second-heat run for a winning 1:28:11 combined time.
Hamlin, the bronze medalist at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, had already earned her trip to Pyeongchang prior to this weekend’s competition. The 31-year-old will retire from competition after this season.
Canadians rounded out the women’s singles podium, with Alex Gough sliding to silver in 1:28.315, and Kimberley McRae claiming bronze with a 1:28.352 combined time.
Twenty-four athletes started the women’s single race and 22 recorded official finish times after two athletes crashed. Two more American women, Summer Britcher and Emily Sweeney, also competed and slid to respective eighth- and 17th-place results. Both racers join Hamlin in the USA Luge contingent heading to Pyeongchang.
Britcher, who won the women’s World Cup singles title here in 2015, turned in runs of 44.298 and 44.385 for a 1:28.683 total. Sweeney had a rough first run, in fact, the slowest of the heat after costly mistakes near the top of the track. But the Connecticut resident came back strong on her next trip, finishing with the sixth-fastest run in the second heat for a 1:29.218 total.
Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Beneken continued their domination of the doubles, winning Saturday’s sprint to capture their second World Cup gold medal in as many days. Peter Penz and Georg Fischler of Austria placed second and Andris Sics and Juris Sics of Latvia captured the doubles sprint bronze.
Americans claimed the next two spots, with Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman sliding into fourth place, and Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk placing fifth. Jacob Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza placed eight to give the U.S. three-top 10 finishes in the doubles sprint.
Saturday’s men’s sprint title went to Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl, who won in 32.441 seconds. Germany’s Johannes Ludwig was runner-up in 32.655 and Morris finished third in 32.665 to earn his first World Cup medal.
Also for the U.S. in the men’s sprint, Tucker West placed fifth and Chris Mazdzer was 15th.
Germany’s Dajana Eitberger won the women’s sprint, Gough finished runner-up to earn her second silver in as many days, and Geisenberger slid to the bronze.
In her last competitive World Cup heat in Lake Placid, Hamlin finished fourth. Britcher was the second women’s singles sprint slider for the U.S. and placed eighth.
The World Cup tour will pick back up in Koenigssee, Germany following the holiday break.