Britcher seventh solo and with relay

ALTENBERG, Germany — USA Luge’s Summer Britcher, a winner of two World Cup medals last weekend, and the American relay team that included the Glen Rock, Pennsylvania racer, were both seventh Sunday in Altenberg to lead the U.S. effort.

  At this course about three turns from the Czech Republic, Germany continued its home track domination with a women’s medal sweep in the morning, followed by a gold medal in the team relay. They toppled track records along the way with race winners Natalie Geisenberger, Felix Loch and the doubles team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken.

Britcher, whose World Cup singles bronze medal in Winterberg secured an A tier Olympic qualification, had a consistent week of training, but it didn’t translate into the opening heat.

“I saved my worst run of the week for race day,” she quipped as her first attempt concluded.

The 2014 Olympian, who was discovered in 2006 at a USA Luge Challenge at Ski Liberty, Pennsylvania, was eighth at the break and moved up one spot in the final leg.

Erin Hamlin, who is headed to her fourth Olympics in 65 days oin Pyeongchang, settled for ninth place, while Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Connecticut, was 11th. Sweeney, seeking her first Olympic berth, captured the Winterberg Sprint Cup gold medal — the only race of the season Geisenberger has not won.

Raychel Germaine did not qualify in the Nations Cup. Teammates Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, and John Fennell, a dual citizen from Calgary, suffered a similar fate that kept them on the sidelines in Saturday’s men’s singles competition.

In the team relay, Britcher, with the second fastest women’s leg, teamed with Taylor Morris, and the doubles team of Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza.

Altenberg uses three different starts, which saw the women and men in the team relay drop down to the doubles start position with no training from there. The challenge of the course was evident the entire weekend in curves nine, the Kriesel (circle) and 14 to 15.

In winning for the 33rd time since the advent of this discipline in 2010, the German relay team set a track record time of 2 minutes, 22.644 seconds, yet they, too, were less than perfect. They have taken both team relays held this season.

Austria was second, 0.3 of a second behind the winners, with Italy third, 0.47 off the pace. The U.S. quartet stopped the clock in 2:24.441.

Germany’s 1-2-3 in women’s singles was highlighted by start and track records on Altenberg’s perfect ice. Geisenberger, the defending Olympic champion, took the first run lead and then rocketed to a record 52.036 to win the event in 1:44.241. She has three victories to date this season in four starts.

Silver medalist Tatjana Huefner, the 2017 world champion who has also collected all three Olympic medals in her career, established the start record (5.451) in the first heat on her way to a combined 1:44.398. Dajana Eitberger was the bronze medal winner in 1:44.733.

Britcher clocked a total of 1:44.951; Hamlin registered 1:45.270; and Sweeney recorded 1:45.329.

Geisenberger, the World Cup all-time record-setter with 41 career wins, has 370 points, 70 points ahead of Huefner in the overall tour standings. Eitberger is third with 228 World Cup points. Geisenberger and Huefner are chasing their sixth season-long World Cup crystal.

Sweeney is in fifth place on the campaign at 204 points, followed closely by Britcher, sixth, with 202 points. Hamlin is ninth with 145 and Germaine, 22nd, with 27.

The Altenberg stop marked the third of five consecutive weekends of racing. The tour now comes to North America for events in Calgary Dec. 8-9 and Lake Placid Dec. 15-16 to end the Olympic qualification period.

USA Luge will announce its 10 Olympic nominees for the Pyeongchang Winter Games on the evening of Dec. 16 at 6 PM in the Conference Center in Lake Placid.

Saturday, Dec. 2

MEN

  ALTENBERG, Germany – Americans Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman placed 11th Saturday, Dec. 2 in the third World Cup doubles race of the season, leading the USA Luge effort on the day at this German resort adjacent to the border of the Czech Republic.

Two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, finished 19th and was the U.S. team’s best in the singles race that occurred later in the day. Teammates Tucker West ran into first run problems late on the track, while Taylor Morris, en route to being the team’s best in the race, rolled over in the Omega curve on the upper section of the course and then recovered.

West, whose start times were in the top two of both runs, wound up 27th, and Morris 31st. Morris, however, had the single best heat among his teammates, and will race in Sunday’s team relay.

Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza backed up Mortensen and Terdiman in 15th. Similar to Morris, Hyrns and Espinoza had the single fastest doubles run among the U.S. teams and will get the nod in the team relay. Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk were 20th after qualifying seventh Friday.

Germany continued to dominate the doubles event, with Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken winning for the third straight week, thus padding their overall World Cup lead. Only a stellar effort from Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler prevented a German sweep. It was the first World Cup podium result for Penz and Fischler since the latter’s circulatory issues last season.

Eggert and Benecken were 0.08 of a second ahead of the Austrians after one heat, and despite a less than perfect start corner and exit of curve nine in the second run, managed to increase the advantage by another 0.19 of a second.

The winners clocked two heats in a combined 1:23.539 on the short doubles layout. Penz and Fischler had the silver medal time of 1:23.808, followed by Robin Geuke and David Gamm in 1:23.991.

The bronze medalists rallied from seventh place with the second fastest final run. The youngsters are third in the World Cup standings and are regulars in the top three each week. But given the team’s depth, their best hope for an Olympic berth will come in four years.

Another young team, Ivan Nagler and Fabian Malleier, of Italy, in just their second World Cup start, astonished with a sixth place performance. It was also noteworthy in that Nagler and Malleier were in Altenberg only to get additional track time in advance of February’s Junior World Championships.

Eggert and Benecken have 385 total World Cup points, followed by Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, fourth Saturday, with 315. Geuke and Gamm are third ranked at 236.

Eggert and Benecken, 2017 World Champions, are shaping up to be overwhelming favorites heading into Pyeongchang, curves eight and nine notwithstanding. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, the defending Olympic gold medalists, will also be considered for medal potential.

Mortensen and Terdiman improved from 15th place to 11th in 1:24.321.

“There was no secret sauce on the second run. We just started off earlier,” Mortensen said. “The track was getting progressively slower on each run, so going off sooner was a big help for a better comparative time. We were also trying a different (sled) set up this race which was not conducive to the conditions. However, the silver lining is that Jayson and I still performed well and we can make adjustments based off our times today. Our main goal is, and will continue to be, going fast at the Olympic Games. Everything we are doing presently is to assist us in achieving that goal.”

They put down the fifth fastest final leg on the Altenberg course that provided a World Cup silver medal at last year’s tour finals. The result hoisted the duo into third place overall for the 2016-2017 season. It was the first top three doubles finish for USA Luge in 14 years.  

Germany’s Felix Loch proved that what’s old is still good enough, referring to his equipment. A year ago, when Loch gave up the overall World Cup title to Russia’s Roman Repilov, the 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion was working with new sled technology. This year, however, Loch has returned to Old Faithful, and is back to his winning ways.

His two heats totaled 1:48.116, giving him his second World Cup victory of the season and providing Germany with a double gold medal day. Loch posted a 0.12 of a second advantage over Repilov, twice the Junior World Champion, who got off to a slow start to the Olympic season prior to this event.

Loch’s teammate, Andi Langenhan, improved from sixth to the bronze medal on his home track. Langenhan was timed in 1:48.398.

Loch, in the top three in all four events to date, is atop the World Cup standings by over 100 points on another Russian, 2015 World Champion Semen Pavlichenko. Austrian Wolfgang Kindl, the 2017 World Champion, is third with one podium result in four starts.

Mazdzer clocked 1:49.364 and West had a combined 1:50.399.

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