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Mazdzer tops Americans in singles

SIGULDA, Latvia — USA Luge finished fourth in Sunday’s World Cup team relay in Sigulda as the weekend concluded just the way it started.

It was literally a homecoming for Latvia and Russia. The former took their first-ever gold medal in the team relay, while the latter placed 1-2 in men’s singles. Over the two days, the medal leaders were Russia with four, Latvia and Germany each with three. The U.S. and Austria both claimed one medal.

Pyeongchang Olympic silver medal-winner Chris Mazdzer led the United States with a 13th place singles result. Teammates Jonny Gustafson and Tucker West were 20th and 22nd, respectively. West took the team relay berth as his second singles run was the team’s best on the day.

The relay was marred by disqualifications due to a missed touch pad at the finish which opens the start gate for the next teammate. Italy, Austria and Poland were all victimized. The other five nations in the field battled for the medals.

Russia’s Semen Pavlichenko was a double medalist on the day as he won gold in the men’s event and raced the middle leg in his relay team’s silver medal winning performance.

TEAM RELAY

After medaling in the past two World Cup team relays, USA Luge was kept off the podium, placing fourth. With only eight teams in the field and three being disqualified, Latvia and Russia continued to take advantage of their familiarity with Sigulda, taking gold and silver, respectively.

“Sigulda relays are always interesting,” said Terdiman, a two-time Olympian. “It amazes me that so many teams don’t focus on how to correctly get out of Kreisel (circular turn) knowing that’s always a sketchy part of the competition. It seems we have people missing the pad here every year, and this time was no exception.”

An inappropriate exit to this 270-degree turn, located at the finish, put athletes out of position to strike the pad.

“It’s tough to reach the podium in Sigulda because it’s the home track of not just Latvia, but Russia as well. And then, of course, you have to contend with Germany.”

It was a career weekend for the Latvian siblings of Kendija Aparjode and Kristers Aparjods. They won their respective Nations Cup qualifier on Friday; Kendija was fifth in women’s singles; Kristers landed in fourth in men’s singles. Both were personal best results in a two-heat World Cup competition.

The two athletes raced the first two legs of the team relay and put Latvia in scoring position. The anchors were Saturday’s doubles silver medalists, Oskars Gudramovics and Peteris Kalnins. The foursome brought their team to its very first team relay gold medal in 2:13.213.

Russia was nearly derailed by disqualification as Tatyana Ivanova, women’s gold medalist a night earlier, just barely nicked the touch pad. Her quartet finished 0.15 behind Latvia, with Germany, the winningest nation since the team relay entered the World Cup in 2012, settling for third place, 0.39 of a second from the top.

Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, the bronze medalist on Saturday, teamed with West and the doubles team of Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. Collectively, they were 0.5 of a second from the podium.

West had the quickest change time among the men, while Mazdzer and Terdiman were third fastest among doubles teams on the hand over.

With two team relays remaining on the season, Germany is in familiar territory as it continues to lead the overall World Cup list with 355 points. Russia is second with 300; Latvia has moved ahead of the U.S. in third place with 270 points; the Americans are just five points from Latvia.

MEN

Sunday’s race result and the overall standings had nothing in common, thanks to the Russian domination at this potential 2026 Olympic venue. Their comfort level in Sigulda was clearly evident as only the disqualification of Roman Repilov, for an overweight sled, may have prevented a Russian medal sweep.

Teammate Semen Pavlichenko, a world champion here in 2015 and a past European Champion on this course, dominated with the two best heats of the race. The World Cup’s ultimate risk-taker, who races all tracks mostly blind and out of the air flow, does not have perfect runs, but makes up for it with his aerodynamic position on the sled.

Pavlichenko clocked a total time of 1:36.074, nearly 0.2 of a second in front of compatriot Alexandr Gorbatcevich, who captured his first World Cup medal. Pyeongchang Olympic champion David Gleirscher raced to his second career World Cup podium, both this season. Gleirscher collected the bronze medal in 1:36.338.

Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, was almost 0.75 from Pavlichenko. It’s appropriate to have the two names in the same breath as it was here, one year ago, that Mazdzer had his epiphany just before the Olympics.

With the specter of the Russian doping scandal and an Olympic ban hanging over his head, Pavlichenko offered Mazdzer, struggling for two seasons, his sled for a training run on this track near the Baltic Sea. That gave the American a different perspective on his own sliding. Mazdzer went on to finish sixth here in the 2018 World Cup final, and used the result as a springboard to his Pyeongchang silver medal.

Gustafson, from Massena, was timed in 1:37.086, with West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, recording 1:37.151. West posted the seventh best final heat.

The top German was double Olympic gold medalist Felix Loch in ninth place.

Through eight of 12 races, including sprints, Johannes Ludwig of Germany, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist, remains atop the overall World Cup standings with 473 points. He was 12th in Sigulda. Second is Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl with 440. He was 10th here. Loch is third with 437 points.

Mazdzer is 12th on the winter; West 14th; Gustafson 17th.

The World Cup tour is now suspended for three weeks. In the interim, Winterberg, Germany will host the World Championships from Jan. 25-27 with all five events to be contested. International Training Week is on tap the week of Jan. 14 in Winterberg, with the official race week starting the week of Jan. 21. The World Cup resumes Feb. 2-3 in Altenberg, Germany.

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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

USA Luge has finalized its World Championship team that will compete in Winterberg, Germany Jan. 25-27. The following athletes have satisfied the criteria:

Men’s singles: Mazdzer, West, Gustafson

Women’s singles: Britcher, Sweeney

Doubles: Mazdzer and Terdiman

The relay team will come from these athletes, to be determined during the Winterberg races.