Britcher leads US lugers

KOENIGSSEE, Germany — Germany’s version of a Happy New Year greeting to the rest of the World Cup luge tour came complete with a six-for-six sweep of the doubles and women’s singles podiums Saturday in Koenigssee.

The traditional luge weekend marks the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, and thus far, there are presents for only one nation. The international circuit resumed in this warm and snow sparse Bavarian resort that saw the home team serve notice just 32 days from the Pyeongchang opening ceremony.

Summer Britcher and Emily Sweeney of the United States claimed solid results, with Britcher taking fifth place and Sweeney in seventh.

Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, try as they might to overcome a long, flat doubles and women’s start ramp, drove the top U.S. doubles sled into 10th place.

Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, was 11th.

USA Luge returned to the final four World Cup events with its 10-member Olympic team, including three women, three men and two doubles teams. 

Britcher, headed to her second Olympics next month, had the third-fastest starts of each heat. Had she prevented a skid in the chicane, she might have finished higher than fifth in the opening attempt. Britcher followed that with another fifth best run, and a combined time of 1 minute, 42.160 seconds.

“I was pretty happy. The past couple of days I started really enjoying sliding here again,” said Britcher, currently fifth in the overall World Cup standings with 396 points. “It’s a feeling I hadn’t felt here in a couple of years. The past couple of years have gone fine as far as my runs consistency and the quality of the races, but I haven’t enjoyed the feeling on the sled here, and I didn’t expect to get that good feeling back. But I noticed I was sliding really well and just enjoying the track and enjoying the environment here. I just wanted to have fun today and put together two clean runs. I’m very happy to end up in fifth place.”

Sweeney, eyeing her Olympic debut next month, had a pair of top eight starts, including a Koenigssee personal best in the first heat. She converted those into top eight places in each leg, giving her a final time of 1:42.334.

“The highlight of the race for me today was my start in my first run,” Sweeney said. “That’s pretty big so I was really excited about that. Overall, I’m happy with it. I had two pretty good runs. I do enjoy sliding here. Obviously, I’d like to have a better result for that performance, so I’m looking to improve upon that in the coming weeks, but overall, I’m content with this performance.”

The 24-year-old is seventh in the tour standings with 320 points.

After this stop in Koenigssee, the World Cup continues in Oberhof, Germany, followed by Lillehammer, Norway and Sigulda, Latvia. Those competitions will determine Olympic seeding.

“I’m really looking at the next three races as being seeded into the Games and that’s my goal for those races,” Sweeney added.

Hamlin, a four-time Olympian, was 11th in 1:42.571, and sits in eighth place on the season with 312 points. Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Georgia, is in Lake Placid training this month. She’s tied for 33rd with 51 World Cup points.

Natalie Geisenberger, the defending Olympic champion, won for the fifth time this winter, marking her 42nd career World Cup triumph. She had the two best times on her home track. Geisenberger had an aggregate time of 1:41.397, which was 0.1 of a second faster than Dajana Eitberger, who took silver despite hitting a wall early in the first heat.

With 2017 World Champion Tatjana Huefner, a winner of all three Olympic medals, absent due to a leg inflammation, a podium position was up for grabs. But it was yet another German, Jessica Tiebel, a Junior World Champion, who took advantage to score her first career World Cup medal in her debut.

Tiebel, the bronze medalist, was a Friday Nations Cup qualifier. The 19-year-old gave up 0.1 of a second in each start, and finished 0.3 of a second from her winning teammate.

Geisenberger has the World Cup lead with 710 points, well in front of Eitberger’s 518 and Huefner’s 515. The latter athlete intends to race next weekend in Oberhof.

The Koenigssee start, according to Mortensen and Terdiman, is about three times longer than any other start ramp in the world in terms of paddle length. Some teams paddled as often as 10 times into the start curve.

“The focus today was to have two good, clean runs,” Mortensen said. “It’s time to get back to being consistent and seeing time gained back as we slide. We saw both of those things happen today so I am happy. The last three races of the year have a good start ramp, so I would expect Jayson and I to find more speed as the season continues.”

Terdiman was equally upbeat in recalling the race, especially those important final stops on the World Cup tour to conclude the season.

“The results may not have shown it, but this was a great race for us,” Terdiman said. “It’s all about getting our consistency back, and we did just that. Both of our runs were super comparable (minus that pesky start ramp). This track has not been a great one for Matt and myself historically, so to finish in the top 10 is a small victory for us. We have never been strong starters and the long, flat ramp here in Koenigssee has always exploited that fact. That being said, we have our heads held high, and expect great things from our team tomorrow (team relay) and in the coming weeks leading into the Olympic Games.”

Based on recent history, the only surprise in the doubles race was the fact that World Cup leaders and 2017 World Champions Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken did not win, although they started the race looking to run away from the field. However, some uncharacteristic mistakes in the final curves below the 360-degree Kriesel, in the opening leg, dropped them to second place behind 2014 Olympic gold medalists and 2016 World Champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.

Those errors by Eggert and Benecken opened the door for Wendl and Arlt to claim their second victory of the season. They also stopped the four-race winning streak of their teammates, who have captured six of eight World Cup competitions in doubles and sprints.

The winners, on their home track, clocked a pair of runs that totaled 1:39.961. Eggert and Benecken took silver in 1:40.095. The top two sleds dominated the start. Robin Geueke and David Gamm, good enough to make any other nation’s Olympic team but not their own, grabbed bronze in 1:40.431.

The runners-up still hold a commanding overall World Cup lead, and could lock up the season title next week in Oberhof. They have 770 points, followed by Wendl and Arlt with 567. Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, fourth in the race, are third overall with 476 points.

Mortensen, of Huntington Station, and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania, posted 1:41.600. They are in sixth place on the campaign, but within earshot of the top five.

Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk took 18th in 1:42.605 and are ranked 13th overall.

Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza are ranked 14th on the strength of the first five World Cup events of the winter. The duo, similar to Germaine, are in the U.S. training during the month of January.