Record-breaking day at Van Ho
LAKE PLACID — Two days of World Cup luge racing kicked off on Friday in Lake Placid, and on a very fast track and a record-breaking day, 22-year-old Tucker West came through with a bronze medal for the United States.
The day began with the doubles competition and concluded with men’s singles. In both races, the winners walked away with new track records on the challenging run at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Not only did the champions in both events surpass the former track records, but West, as well as the American doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman topped those times as well before their results were beaten.
West entered Friday’s race as the defending Lake Placid World Cup champion, and stood on top of the 32-sled field after putting down an opening run of 50.94 seconds, which at the time established a new record on the 1,355-meter track.
But West’s lead didn’t stand up in the second heat, as Russia’s Roman Repilov turned in a sizzling time of 50.875 on his second run to capture the victory.
Repilov, who placed fifth in Lake Placid a year ago and entered this season as the overall World Cup men’s singles defending champion, stood in third place following a first-heat time of 50.999. He won with a combined time of 1:41.874, a result that wasn’t too far ahead of Russian teammate and runner-up Semen Pavlichenko, who won silver with a 1:41.938 total. Pavlichenko set a new track start record of 6.357 in the second heat, and Repilov also had great starts, including the fastest of the second heat.
West’s second run was the fourth fastest of that heat and gave the Connecticut native a 1:42.226 combined time.
Perhaps more important than winning the bronze, West was one of 10 luge athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team, which lifted a burden off the backs of some team members and broke the hearts of others who did not qualify. Also securing trips to South Korea in men’s singles were Taylor Morris and Chris Mazdzer, who turned in respective fifth- and eighth-place finishes in Friday’s race.
“Do my shoulders look lighter? They feel lighter,” West said with a smile. “The past five races, having the extra stress of trying to qualify for the Olympic team … it’s definitely a burden, so I’m glad this process is done with. I’m thrilled that all the hard work and sacrifices have paid off. I’m excited to go show the world what we can do. We’ve lost a lot of battles in these past few races, but the war’s not over.”
February’s trip to Pyeongchang will mark the second time West will be in the Olympics. Meanwhile, Morris, a 26-year-old from Salt Lake City, will make his first Winter Games appearance after missing the cut by a mere four-thousands of a second in his attempt to reach the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Morris came through in a big way on his first run Friday with the fourth-fastest time of the heat, 51.046 seconds, and then turned in a time of 51.183 on his second trip for a fifth-place combined time of 1:42.229.
Mazdzer, a Saranac Lake resident, will be making his third Olympic appearance, and said he’s happy about Friday’s performance but perplexed by his eighth-place finish. He had two of the quickest start times of the day, and liked his runs but was disappointed the effort only yielded an eighth-place result. Mazdzer stood in seventh after an opening heat time of 51.265, and followed with a time of 51.186 for a 1:42.451 total.
“I had awesome runs. I had a fourth-place start, a second-place start, everything felt good,” said Mazdzer, who won this race here in 2015. “That’s the interesting thing about this sport — there are a lot of unknowns with the sled and conditions. I’m frustrated. I’m a little bit angry, but in the end, I’m doing a good job, and I’m going to keep on doing that. Keep going forward.
“I wish the results were different, but you know what, Tucker and Taylor threw down today,” Mazdzer continued. “It’s tough, but I’m so happy for Taylor and Tucker holding on. I shouldn’t be disappointed at all. I’m on the Olympic team. That’s huge. It’s been a huge struggle. That’s always been in the back of my mind making it, and to solidify that is awesome.”
Jonny Gustafson also competed for the U.S. in men’s singles and finished 22nd with a 1:43.274 total.
In the doubles competition, Mortensen and Terdiman got off to a blistering start in the first heat when they established a track record of 43.515, but by the time the run had ended, the dynamic German duo of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken had basically left that time in the dust when they blazed down the track in 43.372 seconds.
Still, things looked pretty good for America’s top doubles team after the run. They stood in second place after the run, and although it would be tough to catch the Germans, Mortensen and Terdiman were in position to finish just where they did a year ago when they grabbed the doubles silver medal in Lake Placid.
But in the end, a podium finish wasn’t in the cards for the U.S. pair, who dropped back into fifth place after a rocky ride during the second heat. They finished with a combined time of 1:27.806, which was exactly one second behind the winning total put down by Eggert and Benecken, who have now won four times and finished runner-up once in the five World Cup races contested so far this season.
The good thing, however, is that Mortensen and Terdiman have secured their second trips to the Olympics, although they were with different partners when they competed in Sochi in 2014.
“We were a little bit later into curve 10,” said Mortensen describing their run in the second heat. “When the curve was ending, we were actually coming down too soon, so it put us on the left wall. The left wall going into 11 is pretty much the worst line you can take. It’s hard to recover from that. We’re were lucky to finish the run on two steels and we managed to finish the run out in the top five, so that’s good, that’s a win with those types of problems.”
Terdiman explained that he was thrilled to see their time heading up the finish ramp during the opening run, and added they were even faster in training on Thursday.
“Last night during training we had a 43.87. To more than a quarter-second faster than we’ve ever gone before is incredible,” he said. “It’s two PRs in two days. We’re sliding fast, just gotta do two in a row.”
One of the big stories arising from Friday’s doubles race was the performance by Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk. They were one of three U.S. doubles teams in the race, and it all came down to the final heat to determine what pair was going to join Mortensen and Terdiman as one of the two American squads heading to South Korea for the Olympics.
Mortensen and Terdiman had already qualified to go to Pyeongchang based on their previous performances, leaving Krewson and Sherk to battle it out with Jacob Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza. In the end, the nod went to Krewson and Sherk, who were in 10th place after the first run and followed with the fourth-fastest finish in the second heat to take sixth overall with a 1:27.806 combined time.
In a solid effort that ended in heartbreak, Hyrns and Espinoza stood in eighth place after the first heat, and then finished with the eighth-top result in the second run to wind up eighth with a 1:27.891 total.
Austria’s Peter Penz and Georg Fischler took the silver in 1:27.440 and Canada grabbed the bronze as Tristan Walker and Justin Snith turned in a 1:27.683 combined time.
Racing resumes today with the women’s singles starting at 9:30 a.m. The luge World Cup action in Lake Placid wraps up later in the day with the men’s, women’s and doubles’ sprint competitions.