Olympians dominate luge start championships

LAKE PLACID — USA Luge Olympians, including Tucker West, Summer Britcher and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, racked up victories, start ramp records and personal best times Friday night at the annual Norton USA Luge Start Championships.

The races, held at the team’s refrigerated training complex in Lake Placid, kicked off the competitive season, which now is under five months away from the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The four-heat race was held on the three ramps, all angled differently, with the shallowest ramp used in the first and fourth heats.

For West, a Sochi Olympian from Ridgefield, Connecticut, it was his sixth career win in an event that occurs near the end of summer training. Only the retired Ashley Walden, with 10 wins, has more indoor titles.

“They were good starts,” West said. “Some of them could have been a little cleaner, but I’m happy with where the times are at. It feels good to hit those benchmarks. Hopefully we can get faster and stronger going into the season.”

West lowered two ramp records and tied the mark on another. His four-heat time of 5.438 seconds bested two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, by almost 0.04 of a second, and a past winner of this event. Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, finished third in 5.612.

For Britcher, on a night where the outside temperature was in the low 70s at race time, Summer heated up the indoor center by taking down the ramp records in each of the first three heats. The Glen Rock, Pennsylvania Olympian who competed in Sochi, had four runs that accrued 5.862 seconds.

“It was pretty good tonight,” said Britcher, who showed no effects from last season’s nagging shoulder ailment. “I had a couple of personal best start times, so it was good. It’s definitely a good way to start off the season on ice in Norway in less than two weeks. I’m continuing to work on starts with (assistant) coach Bengt Walden and move in a positive direction.”

Three-time Olympian and 2014 Sochi bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, finished third behind Britcher and Grace Weinberg, of Pittsfield, Vermont. Rather than a blistering start time, Hamlin’s forte is delivering her sled down the track faster than most. It’s led her not only to the 2014 Olympic bronze medal, but four World Championship medals as well.

Weinberg, a member of the U.S. Junior National Team with one of the best starts on the junior World Cup, was 0.13 behind Britcher. Hamlin placed 0.16 from the winner.

The top USA Luge doubles team took down two ramp records and set four personal bests as they start their fourth season together.

Mortensen and Terdiman have been on a four-year march to the doubles elite. They competed in Sochi with different partners, and officially came together in the spring of 2014.

“It was effortless,” remarked Terdiman about their starts. “Matt and I were going through the motions of getting the flow down the ramp. We just kind of went through it and it was fast. Who can ask for more in a start championship for our fourth year together, so I’m very psyched about that, especially heading into the season.”

Over their first three seasons, their World Cup rank has improved from seventh, to fifth and last season, a team-best third place.

The four start attempts totaled 5.634 seconds, good enough for their first victory in this season-opener. They were nearly 0.04 clear of Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Michigan, and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah.

Justin Krewson, of Eastport, and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, grabbed third place, 0.02 behind Hyrns and Espinoza.

As USA Luge concludes summer training, the team is in high anticipation of returning to the full track which it will do two weeks from now in Lillehammer, Norway.

Thereafter, this core group, from which 10 Olympic nominees will emerge on December 16, will travel throughout Europe and North America, finally returning to Lake Placid for a week on ice from October 22-29. It will conclude with the Norton National Championships at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The World Cup team will spend early November training on the Olympic track in Pyeongchang.

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