Lugers throw down fast starts
LAKE PLACID — Tucker West and Summer Britcher, both two-time Olympians, won their respective divisions Sunday afternoon in the annual Norton USA Luge Start Championships in Lake Placid.
Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer was third behind West and Jonny Gustafson. For West, it was his seventh U.S. start title and eighth overall after taking the top spot last month in Italy. Britcher also raced to victory in the same event in August.
Mazdzer, who is from Saranac Lake and is now training in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the first men’s Olympic singles medalist in U.S. history. He was feted after Sunday’s races for his achievement in South Korea. Local leaders attended, a resolution was read from Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in her behalf, and a large, framed photo was presented to him which will be displayed at team headquarters.
The Lake Placid competition was held in the team’s refrigerated start training complex, which includes three iced ramps at different angles to emulate conditions encountered around the world. The building is slated for an update and rebuild starting next spring, as a result of efforts from New York State and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA).
Sunday’s event brought all three ramps into play, with the fourth and final heat using the reaction start that’s employed in the team relay.
The victories for West and Britcher came in identical fashion as each recorded the fastest individual heat times in all four legs.
“Summer training hasn’t been the best I’ve ever had, but it’s been good,” said West, a three-time World Cup winner and member of the 2014 and 2018 Olympic squads. “Everything is on track and it’s nice to see the starts being fast. We leave for Norway in six days and it’ll be exciting to see what that has to offer.”
His winning total was 5.472 seconds, followed by Gustafson, of Massena, in 5.607. Mazdzer clocked an aggregate 5.633.
Britcher, who also represented Team USA in Sochi and Pyeongchang, picked up the win with four runs totaling 5.961 seconds. Brittney Arndt, of Park City, Utah, a graduating junior coming to the World Cup for the first time, was second in 6.098, with Ashley Farquharson, also of Park City, next in 6.194.
Emily Sweeney, a 2018 Olympian from Suffield, Connecticut, did not compete in the start championship, but is set to travel with the national team to Lillehammer and make her on-ice season debut in early October.
“Today didn’t go as well as I expected it to,” remarked Britcher, the all-time U.S. singles victory leader with five. “I was trying to match or beat my own best. Today wasn’t quite as good as I expected, but I still believe I’m doing the right things with my training. It just didn’t come together today. So it’s a little disappointing to not have done my best, but it still feels good to win.”
Mazdzer departed South Korea with his historic medal, followed by several months training and appearing on Dancing With The Stars. He has been training diligently from his Salt Lake City base as well as fulfilling a myriad of International Luge Federation meetings, appearances and speaking engagements. Mazdzer has now returned to his luge roots with just a week before the team departs for on-ice training in Lillehammer.
Fans and supporters remained after the competition to help honor him, including Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, Saranac Lake village trustee Rich Shapiro and ORDA CEO Mike Pratt.
“It means a lot to be back because I started here when I was 8 years old,” Mazdzer told the audience. “We are going in such a good direction here at USA Luge and it’s not just because we have amazing staff and amazing personnel, but it comes down to family and friends. Luge is such a mental sport. Physically, you can be the best in the world, but if you don’t feel good about what you’re doing, you could fall apart by the end. So thank you for being a part of today.”
Mazdzer, Britcher, West and company will now spend the next two months getting ready for the World Cup opener Nov. 24-25 in Igls, Austria. The next time USA Luge will race at home will be at Mount Van Hoevenberg in late October at the Norton National Championships, followed by the Lake Placid World Cup December 15-16.
After Lillehammer, the group will return home and await the opening of the Lake Placid track in mid-October, weather permitting.