Luge back in action after break

KOENIGSSEE, Germany — It was a short holiday break for USA Luge. After concluding the first half of the World Cup season with a weekend stop in Lake Placid in mid December, where Americans captured two sprint silver medals, team members remained in the Olympic Village for additional training the following week.

They spent about a week at home with family, and right after Christmas, the national team boarded flights on Dec. 27 to head for Koenigssee, Germany for the resumption of the Viessmann World Cup on Saturday and Sunday.

This weekend’s events in this beautiful Bavarian region will signal the 50th for the track, which is the oldest in the luge world. A celebration in nearby Bad Reichenhall was scheduled to mark the occasion Thursday night.

In recent years, sections of the track have been refurbished and a venue title sponsor has been added. The American team hit the Deutsche Post Eisarena for early training runs on Saturday, Dec. 30. At the track, the U.S. will seek to extend its streak of medals won in the past three World Cup meets.

The unique and difficult course at the base of Watzmann Mountain traditionally hosts the first race of the new year, and is scheduled to end the 12 Days of Christmas. Racing will include the third of six team relays this season.

Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, who has been racing both singles as well as doubles with Jayson Terdiman, took a complete break after placing fourth (singles) and second (doubles sprint) on his home track. Mazdzer spent time in Saranac Lake and Montreal over the recess to rest and re-energize prior to joining the group abroad.

“I think the biggest thing going into this week is to continue the momentum that Jayson and I have been building this first half and transferring it to a track where all of the other teams have way more training than we do,” Mazdzer said. “I can count with three hands how many runs I have ever taken from doubles start (in Koenigssee), so we are not going to have any experience advantage. It will be nice having two extra days of training, although we do have to leave our loved ones three days earlier because of it. But they’re only one-hour sessions so I will be sprinting back up the track in order to maximize my singles and doubles runs. It’s going to be two crazy sessions but hopefully this will help us overcome the deficit.”

Mazdzer and Terdiman are the lone U.S. doubles entry this season and are tied for fifth in the overall World Cup standings. 

“As far as singles goes, it’s Koenigssee,” Mazdzer continued. “It’s the most epic of luge tracks in the world and when the conditions are fast, this track will eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner if you lose focus for even a split second. Doing both disciplines is going to be a huge challenge here and I am up for it.”

Two-time Olympian Summer Britcher is now ranked third in the World Cup standings, highlighted by her sprint silver at home. Britcher’s current position matches her final standing last season.

“I’m very excited to return to racing,” she stated. “Koenigssee is a challenging track, but that’s what makes it one of the most fun to race on. I’ve had a few results here that I’m proud of, so I’m hoping that maybe one more year of experience is what it takes to get a personal best finish. I’m expecting my starts to pick up pace in the second half of the season. Typically, I start the year with a slower start and they build to a peak during the second half.”

Teammates on the 2019 portion of the schedule include Pyeongchang Olympian Emily Sweeney, who returned to racing with a bronze medal at Whistler, B.C. and a pair of fourth-place results in Lake Placid where she missed the podium in both races by just 0.01 of a second. Brittney Arndt rounds out the women’s squad. She was a career best sixth in Lake Placid.

Mazdzer will be accompanied in singles by two-time Olympian Tucker West, who set an unofficial track record last week in Lake Placid, and the improving Jonny Gustafson.

After Koenigssee, the circuit moves on to another technically difficult layout in Sigulda, Latvia on Jan. 12-13. USA Luge will then finalize its team for the World Championships, set for Jan. 25-27 in Winterberg, Germany, preceded by an international training week.

The team will be joined in Winterberg by Erin Hamlin for the training and racing weeks. Hamlin, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, 2018 U.S. flag bearer and two-time World Champion, ended her career after Pyeongchang. She will serve as an assistant coach for the two-week period.

“Even though I’m retired I still feel very connected and part of the team, probably because I was teammates with the athletes for so long,” remarked Hamlin. “I’m looking forward to helping any way that I can and bring a different perspective to the coaching staff. I was there to see the team grow over the last few years so knowing the skill and potential they have developed makes it exciting to jump back in, even for just a couple of weeks. I was also always hoping to see more female coaches in my career, so to jump into that role, in a world with very few, is exciting.”

Live streaming will continue for the duration of the campaign on Race times in Koenigssee are 4:10 a.m. (eastern time) on Saturday, and 4 a.m. on Sunday.

Broadcast (cable) coverage from Koenigssee is slated for the Olympic Channel on Saturday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. ET, and from 5 to 6 p.m. on Saturday.