USA Luge grabs two sixths

OBERHOF, Germany — On the final day of World Cup racing for the weekend, USA Luge posted sixth-place results Sunday in both women’s singles and the team relay.

Rain and wind greeted the women in Oberhof, also known as Blow-berhof by USA Luge athletes for the region’s preponderance for strong winds. Temperatures pushed the 40-degree mark adding to the tour’s weather issues throughout Germany over the past month.

Slowing conditions impacted the team relay as Italy, an early starter, capitalized for the victory.

USA Luge’s lone entry in the women’s field, two-time Olympian Summer Britcher, was sixth on a day when the home team took all the hardware.

Britcher’s result, in a season where she’s won three World Cup medals, all consecutive, enabled her to remain in third place in the season-long standings with two events remaining in Sochi.

“It was a pretty good race today with some close racing,” Britcher said. “There were only two or three-hundredths separating four or five sleds in the first run. It was a tight race which is always exciting. I didn’t end up as high as I wanted but it was still a lot of fun.”

Pyeongchang Olympian Emily Sweeney did not compete this week, opting instead to rest as part of her comeback from a year ago. Despite entering just six of 10 World Cup races this year, the Suffield, Connecticut athlete is 10th in the overall standings. Sweeney will race at the World Cup finals.

Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, ran the lead leg in the team relay where she teamed with Tucker West and the doubles team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman. The latter two will return home Monday as Mazdzer will begin evaluation of the neck and shoulder issues that he’s raced through this winter.

The Americans are fourth-ranked in the World Cup team relay standings. With Mazdzer and Terdiman, the only doubles team, now having concluded their seasons, USA Luge will be among the spectators at the Sochi team relay. Four singles athletes will participate there – Britcher, Sweeney, West and Jonny Gustafson, of Massena.

WOMEN

Germany’s 2018 Olympic team swept in Oberhof, led by Natalie Geisenberger, a winner of five Olympic medals, four of them gold. Her season has featured five victories and four silver medals in 10 events. The effort, coming five days after her 31st birthday, also secured her fourth European title as the weekend had double significance. The World Cup finals in Sochi two weeks from now figures to offer a pair of victory laps before she caps her seventh consecutive World Cup crystal. She is looking to match Markus Prock of Austria, who achieved this in the decade of the 1990s.

Julia Taubitz, also of Germany, was fifth in the race and is second in the standings. After opening the year with seven consecutive podium results and two wins, Taubitz has been out of the top three in her last three starts.

With the two fastest runs of the race, Geisenberger clocked 1 minute, 22.810 seconds, good enough for a 0.22 of a second triumph over Tatjana Huefner, who reverted to her old sled this week. A winner of all three Olympic medals and six World Championships, Huefner raced her final event on German soil as she will retire in two weeks at the age of 35. Fittingly, she went out in style, recording the two best start times and threatening Geisenberger except for two wall taps in the straightaway between curves 13 and 14.

Dajana Eitberger, the Pyeongchang Olympic silver medal winner, was second after one heat, made a collection of errors in the second run, yet finished third in 1:23.127.

Britcher improved her second run by 0.06 of a second over the first heat. USA Luge’s all-time World Cup singles race winner, Britcher had an aggregate time of 1:23.272 on Oberhof’s luge design that goes back to the era of separate sliding tracks.

TEAM RELAY

When the weather doesn’t cooperate, timing is everything. For Italy, the timing was right. The second team out of the gate, the foursome of Andrea Voetter, Dominik Fischnaller, Ivan Nagler and Fabian Malleier, capitalized to claim the team relay gold medal.

The winners sat in the leader’s box for the final seven teams and outlasted them all as conditions took their toll. Drilling further into the event, the long gap between the traditional finish line and the touch pad cost teams gulps of time.

The winners’ time of 2:22.827 topped Germany’s 2:22.943. The silver medalists raced Geisenberger, Johannes Ludwig and the tandem of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Geisenberger had the fastest women’s leg, but her teammates lost fractions on their runs.

Latvia’s doubles team of brothers Andris and Juris Sics brought them from beyond the medals to third place in 2:23.256.

The U.S. quartet, sixth team on the start list, clocked 2:23.666. They got no closer to the podium than Britcher’s third best women’s run. West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, had the fastest reaction, but saw time slip away going up the long, slow outrun to the pad.

Perhaps a sign of Mazdzer’s neck and shoulder problems manifested itself in the doubles’ reaction time. Normally among the quickest, Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, and Terdiman were off the pace from the start gate. They gained time on the trip down the course, but could only maintain the position established by West.

In the overall World Cup rankings, USA Luge, with silver and bronze medals this year, hopes to retain fourth behind Germany, Russia and Latvia. With no team in the Sochi field, their season can end no better.

The sixth and final team relay on Feb. 24, beginning at 6:30 AM ET, will end the World Cup season. That is the make-up race from Altenberg which was snowed out last Sunday.

The concluding weekend-long event on the 2014 Olympic course will offer the complete luge menu – men’s and women’s singles, doubles, sprint races and the team relay.

SATURDAY

In his final World Cup doubles luge race of the season, Chris Mazdzer teamed with Jayson Terdiman to finish 10th Saturday in variable weather in Oberhof, Germany.

The ensuing men’s event saw Tucker West finish 14th and Jonny Gustafson 27th. Both had issues in their opening heats as Gustafson, in his first full World Cup season and with very little Oberhof experience, prevented a crash, while West touched a wall at the beginning of the straightaway out of curve 13. His second heat was the team’s fastest, thus qualifying for the team relay berth.

Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, announced Friday night that he was ending his season this weekend and returning home to have his ailing neck examined. He and Terdiman will anchor the team relay Sunday prior to departing Monday, while their teammates will fly in the opposite direction to the World Cup finals in Sochi.

“The runs weren’t perfect, but we haven’t had a perfect run all week,” Terdiman said. “Surprisingly, our start times were much better today even though Chris is pushing through the pain. Hopefully, we can really put one together tomorrow to give the team a good chance in the relay.”

At the moment, the duo is in sixth place in the overall World Cup standings in their return season. Prior to Oct. 15, they had not slid together since their junior days 10 years ago.

DOUBLES

The race, which began with light rain and fog, came down to a German matchup before a large and vocal crowd which included the Minister President of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, the two-time and defending Olympic gold medalists, and teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, the two-time and defending World Champions, continued their global rivalry to begin the weekend.

Oberhof is more home to Eggert and Benecken, while Bavarians Wendl and Arlt might be more comfortable in Koenigssee. But in one of the many anomalies in luge, this season the two teams won on the other’s home track.

Wendl and Arlt hold the track record in Oberhof, and today, they proved how it happened by turning back their compatriots by 0.2 of a second over the two runs. The winners had the two fastest heats of the morning and recorded a combined 1 minute, 21.951 seconds on Oberhof’s shorter, but technical layout.

Eggert and Benecken clocked 1:22.151. Latvians Andris and Juris Sics, ages 33 and 35 respectively, have gotten a second wind this season and took the bronze medal in 1:22.274. It was their third straight podium result.

As the European Championships are being held concurrently this weekend, that race within the race had the identical result with Wendl and Arlt claiming their third continental title.

Eggert and Benecken are well ahead in the overall World Cup classification with just two races remaining. Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, of Austria, were a distant fourth Saturday but hold second place on the season. However, Wendl and Arlt are just 14 points behind the Austrians heading to Sochi.

Mazdzer and Terdiman finished 0.9 off the winning pace. In an Instagram post Friday night, Mazdzer said he entered the season with his physical health at less than 100 percent. Yet, the twosome was in the top 10 all season, recorded a sprint silver medal and helped USA Luge to silver and bronze medals in the team relay.

With the neck issue following shoulder surgery several years ago, those problems are manifested at the start where the Americans have given up time this season. The driving and sliding have been no worry as an examination of times all season clearly indicate a team with the ability to gain valuable time down the course.

Terdiman added, last night, that he’s anxious to see how much they can improve with a completely healthy teammate. After Sunday, that will be dictated by Mazdzer’s medical evaluation and ensuing course of action, followed by time and an off season of preparation – to be continued in October.

MEN

Wind, sun, rain, warming temps and no German on the podium. In Oberhof, most of that might be expected, but the final point has never happened. On the weather front, luge racers have contended with imperfect conditions at most German races this season.

The Russians dominated with Semen Pavlichenko and Roman Repilov finishing 1-2, with Latvia’s Kristers Aparjods taking the bronze for his first career World Cup medal.

Pavlichenko, the 2015 World Champion, is the ultimate risk-taker. With his head back and sliding mostly blind, Pavlichenko can be fire on ice. He removes himself from the air flow so any small mistakes that occur going down the hill are overcome with aerodynamics.

In the final heat, Pavlichenko, in second place, overtook his teammate for the victory by 0.04 of a second. The Latvian, who was crowned gold medalist at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games, was 0.18 from the winner. Reinhard Egger, of Austria, 2019 World Championship runner-up, missed the podium by 0.01 of a second.

The most glaring omission was the lack of Germans on the podium on a track where they are typically uber dominant. On his home course, Olympic bronze medalist Johannes Ludwig was fifth, while six-time World Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Felix Loch settled for seventh. Loch has won this competition eight times, and grabbed his first world title here in 2008.

This was also the order of finish in the European Championships, with Pavlichenko victorious for the fourth time.

West, meanwhile, won the Nations Cup qualifier a day earlier. In the World Cup, the two-time Olympian’s starts were, as always, stellar but the two trips to the finish bled speed. His two-run time of 1:26.872 was two-thirds of a second behind Pavlichenko. Such is the nature of luge that the top 23 racers were clocked in the same second.

Gustafson rebounded with a final heat that bettered his first by 0.8 of a second. His final time was 1:27.832.

The battle at the top will be intriguing at the finals on the 2014 Olympic track. With just a singles race and a sprint event remaining, Ludwig remains slightly ahead of the field with 598 overall World Cup points, followed by Pavlichenko at 588, Loch 583 and Egger with 580.

USA Luge athletes are led in the rankings by Mazdzer in 13th despite abandoning singles racing a month ago with his neck problem. West is 14th, while Gustafson sits in 17th place.

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