Hamlin locks in spot for fourth Olympic appearance
WINTERBERG, Germany — It was a where-do-we-start-first kind of day for USA Luge.
On the closing of the Winterberg World Cup weekend on Sunday, Erin Hamlin officially wrote her ticket to her fourth Olympic berth with a fourth-place result; Summer Britcher scored a World Cup bronze medal, claimed an A tier qualification for South Korea in the process, and later collected a Sprint Cup silver medal; and Emily Sweeney grabbed her first career World Cup gold medal — in the sprint race — after securing a B tier Olympic qualification with an eighth place effort in singles.
The sprint result with Sweeney first and Britcher second, marked the first time in USA Luge singles history that two athletes have been on a European World Cup podium.
And let’s add a World Cup sprint silver for Britcher right behind Sweeney, and fourth place in the sprint doubles for Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman.
In the sprint, which has been officially presented to the IOC for inclusion in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, athletes pull from their traditional start location. However, the clock doesn’t start running for some 100 meters, creating a flying start into the race.
USA Luge does not use sprint races toward Olympic qualification.
Hamlin, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and four-time World Championship medal-winner, was fifth after a first heat that saw her teammates tied for second place behind eventual winner, Natalie Geisenberger of Germany.
It changed, however, in the second leg as Geisenberger’s teammate, Tatjana Huefner, rallied to the silver medal, bumping Britcher to third place. Sweeney made several errors that dropped her to eighth, while Hamlin improved to fourth.
“After the first run, I was sitting in fifth, and I just wanted to come down and keep my spot,” said Hamlin, a Remsen native who needed a top five to nail down the Olympic berth. “That was the only thing I was thinking about. And after last weekend, where I would normally have a way better shot — I have more consistent results in Igls — I was a lot disappointed from that. So to be able to hold it together for two runs was very much on my mind. They were not my best runs here, but good enough for what I wanted to accomplish today. So I was very relieved after my second run. Coming up and seeing a ‘1,’ that was a huge weight off my shoulders, and I could not be happier.”
Hamlin and Cameron Myler are the USA Luge career leaders among women for most Olympic appearances with four. In addition, Hamlin announced that this will be the final season of an illustrious career.
Geisenberger dusted the field by almost 0.35 of a second. The defending Olympic champion had the two fastest runs of the event, totaling 1 minute, 53.484 seconds. Huefner clocked 1:53.832, with Britcher next in 1:53.893 and Hamlin fourth in 1:54.042.
Britcher, a Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, racer and member of the 2014 Sochi squad, has had mostly good experiences in Winterberg over her career, despite its capricious weather. This was in contrast to last week’s World Cup opener that saw her crash in the Nations Cup qualifier, thus missing the race.
After Sunday’s two medals, Britcher stated that she has left last week behind and now is in a better place psychologically.
“So today was my first World Cup race of the season,” she stated. “I was happy to have two good runs. That sounds pretty cliché, but I realized last weekend that I was putting too much pressure on myself, and not having as much fun as I should be having. So today at the start for all three runs, I was focusing on having a good time, and having the best run that I could have. So when that ended up putting me on the podium, I was very happy, and obviously the added bonus of having the A tier is a pretty good thing.”
Sweeney was looking at a similar reward for her first run brilliance. But the payoff never materialized after some second heat miscues. She drifted down to eighth place in 1:54.173.
“I was clearly disappointed with my World Cup result,” remarked Sweeney, of Suffield, Connecticut. “I was right there and it was all too easy to get that A tier right along with them. But I made some mistakes and it didn’t end up happening. For the sprint, I was just disappointed going into the race. It was nice to have that kind of consolation prize, but it was definitely overshadowed by my disappointment from the World Cup (singles).”
There are other “consolation prizes”, too, for Sweeney: she’s now ranked third in the overall World Cup standings, behind only Geisenberger and Huefner; and in the sprint competition, she defeated these Germans that have won the past two Olympic titles and over 70 World Cup races between them.
Sweeney’s winning sprint run was timed in 39.598. Britcher’s silver medal time was 39.642, just ahead of Geisenberger’s 39.678.
On the season, Britcher is in sixth and Hamlin ninth. Raychel Germaine did not qualify Friday for the World Cup, and is tied for 34th after the two events.
USA Luge came within 0.01 of a second from yet another medal in the sprint doubles. Mortensen and Terdiman, who picked up an A tier qualification Saturday by finishing fifth in the two-heat event, placed fourth, right behind another German podium sweep. The Americans were celebratory as they concluded their run in front of the Germans.
“I was happy because I thought we had a really good chance at grabbing a medal after that run,” replayed Mortensen, of Huntington Station. “I knew the conditions weren’t great, so I was optimistic about the outcome. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way, but we had a great run so that’s all that counts. That fourth place finish really helps us in the overall standings.”
The achievement lifted them to sixth place overall. German sleds are occupying three of the top four World Cup spots on the season-long tour.
Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt sprinted to the gold medal in 31.622, with Saturday’s winners, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken second, 0.02 of a second behind. Robin Geuke and David Gamm, were third, another 0.02 from the silver medal.
Mortensen and Terdiman were less than 0.06 from the winners.
“Today’s run was one of the best we had all week,” commented Terdiman. “To continue this momentum we have is a great feeling, and we are hoping to follow this trend as we continue the World Cup circuit in Altenberg. If you remember how last year ended, we had some magic on our side and hopefully it will show itself once again as we try to get ourselves back on the podium.”
USA Luge’s second sprint doubles entry — Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza — were eighth in the race and currently 11th on the year. Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk did not qualify for the sprint race. They are 19th in the World Cup rankings.
Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, was the team’s lone entry in the men’s sprint, which is reserved for the top 15 from the two-run discipline event. West finished 15th in the race captured by Felix Loch, of Germany. The Vancouver and Sochi Olympic gold medal winner turned back the field by 0.11 of a second and has the overall World Cup lead. Russia’s 2015 World Champion and Igls World Cup winner Semen Pavlichenko was runner-up, while Nico Gleirscher of Austria took third.
West, a 2014 Olympian, is in 14th place on the campaign, with Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, seeking a third Olympic berth, in the 21st spot.
The World Cup circuit now moves on to Altenberg, Germany for the third of five consecutive weekends of racing. The finale of that stretch will occur in Lake Placid on Dec. 15-16. USA Luge will announce its 10 Olympic nominees on the evening of Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Conference Center in Lake Placid.