Britcher finishes season third overall
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — At the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, USA Luge’s Summer Britcher ended the World Cup season Sunday in third place in the overall tour standings for the second consecutive season. Among American women, the back-to-back achievements are second only to Cameron Myler, who was World Cup runner-up in 1991-1992.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, finished eighth in the sprint race at the Sanki Sliding Centre to edge a charging Dajana Eitberger, of Germany, by just six points. Britcher also took third in the final World Cup sprint standings for 2018-2019.
“It was definitely a close, close battle down to the very last race,” said the two-time U.S. Olympian. “It really was a stressful one there, the last few sleds coming down, but I feel great. It was a great season and now I’m just looking forward to next year.”
Entering the last individual event of the winter, the battle appeared to narrow down to Britcher and Russian Tatyana Ivanova. But the latter athlete slipped to 11th in the sprint race, while Eitberger claimed a silver medal. The point differential brought the German to a close fourth place in the final rankings, six points behind Britcher.
Britcher was the lone American in the sprint event as 2018 Olympian Emily Sweeney withdrew after the first heat of Saturday’s singles race. According to a team statement Sunday from Russia, “it was decided as a precaution for her neck. After training here for two weeks, her body wasn’t up to the strain at that moment.”
Tucker West and Jonny Gustafson placed 14th and 16th, respectively, in the men’s singles race. That qualified the former for the sprint, but eliminated the latter as only the top 15 from the two-heat competition advance to the bonus points provided by the sprint. Gustafson was merely 0.007 from 15th.
Given that next year’s World Championships will be held at this venue, the performance of the home team was noteworthy. In seven events this weekend, same as World Championships, Russia secured 11 medals from a total of 19 (a nation may only win one medal in the team relay).
It was a brilliant weekend for the home team. It started by winning all three medals in Saturday’s races. Russia’s Victoriia Demchenko, daughter of team coach and triple Olympic medal winner Albert Demchenko, established a stepping stone for her future.
After taking the silver behind German World Cup champion Natalie Geisenberger 24 hours earlier, Demchenko raced to a victory in Sunday’s sprint. She topped Eitberger by 0.1 of a second with Geisenberger taking the bronze.
Britcher wound up 0.4 off the lead in the one-heat format where the timing begins approximately 100 meters below the start handles. She concluded with 637 World Cup points, highlighted by three straight medals in mid-season, and stood behind Geisenberger’s 1,052 and Julia Taubitz’s 793. Taubitz, also of Germany, was 12th in the final sprint.
Sweeney, of Suffield, Connecticut, was 15th at the conclusion of the season, racing six of 12 events. Continuing her recovery from the crash of a year ago in Pyeongchang, the singles withdrawal ended her year. Sweeney amassed 320 World Cup points, recording a World Cup bronze medal and three fourth place finishes and a sprint fourth place in the World Championships.
Brittney Arndt, of Park City, Utah, competed in seven events and finished 20th with 217 points, while Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Georgia, totaled 103 points in four events. Germaine was 26th on the season.
In two words, the Russian men “crushed it,” taking gold and silver in singles as well as fourth and fifth places. Later in the day, they swept the sprint event. This occurred after pocketing gold and bronze in doubles on Saturday. Together with Demchenko, they appear to be set up nicely for the 2020 World Championships.
Russia was led by 2015 World Champion Semen Pavlichenko, who won the singles and sprint races, finished the year taking gold in four of the final five events on the calendar, and soared over Germans Ludwig and Felix Loch on the last day of the season en route to the tour’s overall championship. Loch rallied to finish eighth as he was suffered from dizziness and loss of vision in the opening run. He was later cleared by the German team doctor to resume.
In his typical fly or die fashion, Pavlichenko risked everything, sliding “blind” with his head back to remove himself from the air flow. If it’s been said that he gets his track cues eyeing overhead markers, then on his home ice, he might have also raced with his eyes closed for good measure.
In the morning singles competition, Pavlichenko defeated his teammate and 2017 World Cup winner Roman Repilov by 0.43 of a second. Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller broke up the sweep, helped by Alexandr Gorbatcevich, who was second after the opening leg, but took himself out of the running at the end of his final run.
Pavlichenko piled up 788 points over the course of the season, followed by Repilov with 718. The latter racer also staged a late rally by closing the year with three straight silver medals.
After the World Championships, Ludwig and Loch helped the Russians by each missing the podium in the final three races. Loch was third overall with 685, with Ludwig next at 666.
West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, improved in the last leg from 17th to 14th, and recorded a two-run time of 1 minute, 45.116 seconds. His start times were ranked first and third. Gustafson, of Massena, clocked 1:45.251.
A 2014 and 2018 Olympian, West finished 16th with 315 points. Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, missed the final four World Cup races due to his neck and shoulder problems. He was 18th with 270 points, while Gustafson was right behind with 261.
Germany’s Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, third in the sprint doubles race, claimed the sprint title ahead of Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller of Austria. The ageless Sics brothers, Andris and Juris, took third overall in the sprint of which there were three events this season per discipline.
Sunday’s sprint gold medal marked another Russian victory, with Alexandr Denisev and Vladislav Antonov, double weekend winners, edging the Sics brothers by 0.01 of a second. Eggert and Benecken were 0.07 off the pace.
Russia stamped its exclamation point on the weekend as the team relay World Champions once again knocked off Germany for the gold medal. The quartet of Demchenko, Pavlichenko, Denisev and Antonov set a track record of 2:45.272.
The race was a make-up event after the Altenberg team relay was snowed out.
Geisenberger, Loch, Eggert and Benecken were 0.07 behind, with Latvia third. However, the season-long race over six events went to Germany in a winter that featured six medals, including two victories. They piled up 525 World Cup points to Russia’s 455. Latvia was third at 410.
With the absence of Mazdzer and doubles partner Jayson Terdiman, USA Luge had no entry Sunday in the team relay. The Americans finished in fifth place, one point from fourth.
On the year, the U.S. recorded a total of seven World Cup podium finishes and one World Championship medal. Youth and junior athletes tacked on another eight international medals.