Mazdzer leads the way for Team USA
ALTENBERG, Germany — The efforts of Chris Mazdzer in doubles and singles led the American effort Saturday as Viessmann World Cup luge racing resumed in Altenberg after a month-long holiday recess.
Mazdzer teamed with Jayson Terdiman in the morning to finish 17th in doubles. In the afternoon, Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medal winner from Saranac Lake, returned with a 13th place in singles as he continues to battle through upper body injuries that have severely hampered his starts in both events. Jonny Gustafson was 14th and Tucker West 21st.
In typical Altenberg fashion, athletes faced different conditions when race day arrived. Hoarfrost created a slower surface during the training days, but on Saturday the ice conditions were firmer leading to surprising first run results. Some of the expected contenders found themselves scrambling in the final leg to climb the leaderboard. Only Austria seemed to have Saturday’s race conditions figured out as they swept both gold medals.
It took him two years, but Pyeongchang Olympic champion David Gleirscher finally won a World Cup race. The last man named to the 2018 Austrian Olympic team stunned the sliding world in February 2018. Since then, Gleirscher has won a pair of World Cup bronze medals — until Saturday. He grabbed the first run advantage on Altenberg’s difficult course, negotiating through the upper Omega curve and the subsequent 360-degree Kreisel, to create a nearly 0.2 gap to Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller. Despite a less than stellar second run start, Gleirscher gained time throughout the run and still had enough to hold off the Italian by that margin.
Gleirscher, whose parents were in the finish line gallery, recorded a two-heat total of 1 minute, 48.150 seconds. Fischnaller was next in 1:48.383. Germany’s Felix Loch, multiple Olympic gold medalist, World Champion and World Cup overall winner, rallied from seventh place with the second quickest final run. Loch’s third place time was 0.27 from Gleirscher.
Current World Cup overall leader Roman Repilov of Russia proved that nothing is given in Altenberg. Repilov cruised out of the gate to open the race and was clearly headed to the top time until he miscued exiting the Kreisel, dropping him to 22nd. He made amends with the best final leg and took 10th place. Teammate Semen Pavlichenko, a World Champion, stood fourth at the mid-point but settled for seventh. Austria’s double World Champion, Wolfgang Kindl, could do no better than seventh, while compatriot Jonas Mueller, who dominated the early stages of the season with two gold medals, started his day in third place at the break, but wound up 32nd. Another German, Johannes Ludwig, 2018 Olympic gold and bronze medalist, was eighth.
Mazdzer will take solace in the fact that he is sliding consistently good, but the injuries put him well behind at the start. He was nearly one second off Gleirscher’s pace, whereas he finished 0.02 from the Austrian in South Korea on that noteworthy night.
Gustafson, of Massena, clocked 1:49.267. West, a two-time Olympian from Ridgefield, Connecticut, was 21st in 1:49.522 after collecting two World Cup silver medals in Lake Placid.
On the campaign, Repilov has overtaken Mueller for the overall World Cup lead, 466 points to 385. Fischnaller is next at 350. West drops from third to fifth place with 306 points. Mazdzer is ninth with 241, and Gustafson 16th at 134. West and Mazdzer remain exempt from Nations Cup qualifying next week.
The weekly World Cup same old same old of domination by Germany was drastically upended, interestingly, on a German track. The team’s effort was pedestrian at best, given their history and standards. Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, holders of the start and track records in Altenberg, did manage a silver medal Saturday morning to increase their overall lead, but it was a far cry from the team’s usual gold-silver domination.
Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller managed to slide to the top of the field for the second straight year in Altenberg, while Russian sleds took third and fourth places. The next best Germans were Robin Geueke and David Gamm in fifth place, with four-time Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt relegated to sixth. Friday’s seeded training session indicated that something was in the air as the Latvian Sics brothers, Andris and Juris, posted the best time.
The Steu-Koller victory was sizeable — by over 0.2 of a second for the two heats. The double World Championship medal winners totaled 1:23.779 on a comfortable winter day with light snowfall in the Ore Mountains. Eggert and Benecken, despite just the sixth best final heat, were runners-up in 1:24.007. Alexandr Denisev and Vladislav Antonov and Vsevelod Kashkin with Konstantin Korshunov continue to prove that the Russians are coming in droves. The former team grabbed the bronze medal 1:24.060, helped by the fastest second run. Their teammates were 0.09 from the podium.
Eggert and Benecken have been either first or second in all six World Cup races to date, and lead the discipline with 555 points. Wendl and Arlt, who suffered their first result this year off the podium, are next with 471, followed by Steu and Koeller at 401.
Mazdzer and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania, are in 17th place with 118 points. Now outside the top seeded group, they will have to qualify next Friday in the Lillehammer Nations Cup.