Britcher on the cusp of podium
KOENIGSSEE, Germany — On the next to last day of the Viessmann World Cup luge season Saturday, Summer Britcher of the United States finished fourth in Koenigssee, missing a bronze medal by just 0.013 of a second.
Nevertheless, the resulting World Cup points elevated the Glen Rock, Pennsylvania Olympian from sixth to fifth place in the final overall standings in women’s singles.
“The runs felt very good,” Britcher said. “It wasn’t the result I wanted. We’re always gunning for those podium finishes, but I’m really proud of my approach to the final race. I wanted to end on a good note, a positive note and have a fun time.”
Earlier, the USA Luge doubles team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman turned in their best result of a partial season by taking seventh place on the world’s oldest artificially refrigerated track.
The duo has been beset by a variety of injuries that slowed their starts and forced them to sit out several races. The result was the best in Koenigssee for a U.S. doubles sled since Christian Niccum and Dan Joye were sixth in 2010.
“I’m confident on our sled and I’m confident with Jayson,” said Mazdzer, a 2018 Olympic silver medalist from Saranac Lake. “When the sled feels good, we can do anything. We just need the start times to back us up. The first run put us in contention to do really well. The second run we kind of drifted a little bit left on the start and we were making corrections and that slows you down. Unfortunately, the top was a tenth (of a second) slower. But overall I’m really happy with how it went.”
The junior doubles team of Dana Kellogg and Lake Placid’s Duncan Segger were 11th, marking their best result among their three World Cup starts in the final month of the season. They progressively improved in each outing.
Also, in the American singles lineup Saturday were Brittney Arndt, of Park City, Utah, who was 14th in her season-ending race. Teammate Ashley Farquharson, also of Park City, wound up 20th as she concluded her year. Farquharson took second place in the overall Nations Cup this year, while Arndt was third.
U.S. Junior National Team member Chevonne Forgan, of Chelmsford, Mass., back for another taste of the World Cup, did not advance through Friday’s Nations Cup qualifier.
The final World Cup stop was ripe with numerous underlying stories as all four disciplines were to be decided on the final weekend. Two of those came to a conclusion on Saturday in comfortable weather with the sun poking around Watzmann Mountain. Germany’s Julia Taubitz and teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken clinched the women’s and doubles championships, respectively.
The event also marked the last World Cup stop under the aegis of International Luge Federation (FIL) President Josef Fendt, who officially announced his retirement Friday after 26 years. Secretary General Einars Fogelis of Latvia will take the reins on an interim basis in June at the FIL Congress. Fogelis will serve for two years before elections are held in 2022.
It took a superlative run by Russia’s Victoriia Demchenko on Koenigssee’s difficult course to keep Britcher off the podium. Demchenko suffered a concussion on this course 13 months ago, but after standing fifth at the intermission, she exacted her revenge with the second heat’s best time. That saw her hurdle the fourth place American and brought Demchenko up to third place.
“I put together two solid runs,” said Britcher, a two-time Olympian. “It was some great racing. Victoriia Demchenko is one of my favorite people to compete against, so it’s always fun when we’re right there next to each other. It was a great race.”
Entering the final leg, Anna Berreiter of Germany, on home ice, held the advantage, but second through fourth places were separated by next to nothing. Demchenko’s teammate Tatyana Ivanova was holding on to a 27-point lead on Taubitz entering the weekend. If Ivanova could finish ahead of Taubitz, the overall women’s World Cup crown would be hers. But Koenigssee’s track is a willing spoiler and played that role perfectly. Ivanova had some unfortunate skids in the second heat, while Taubitz bought her sled down with the second-best time to finish second, while Ivanova drifted back to sixth.
The final point total saw Taubitz, twice a silver medalist at the World Championships, edge Ivanova 965-957. Demchenko was next with 722. Berreiter, who captured two gold medals in the last three events, jumped into fourth place overall with 637, while Britcher, fifth on the campaign with 523 points, hopped over Ekaterina Katnikova of Russia, the singles and sprint World Champion two weeks ago. Katnikova did not finish on Saturday.
German dominance in women’s luge dates back to 1997-1998 when Italian Gerda Weissensteiner was the last non-German to take the overall championship. Natalie Geisenberger of Germany won the title the past seven straight years but was absent this year to start a family. Ivanova, meanwhile, was trying to give her nation its first women’s World Cup overall victory.
Arndt, a Friday qualifier, twice tapped the wall exiting S-4 into the bend straightaway, while Farquharson made some first run errors that she corrected in the final leg and saw her finish time improve by 0.45 of a second. She ended her rookie season in 17th place overall; Arndt was 21st.
Emily Sweeney, of Lake Placid, stepped away from the World Cup four weeks ago with neck issues. Officially, she was 12th on the four-month tour.
The 43rd career victory for German World Champions Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken clinched the overall World Cup title for the fifth time as they turned the final event of the season into a no-contest victory over teammates and double Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. The ageless Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics, the oldest doubles team in their mid-30s, were bronze medalists in the race and third overall. Team Sics was one second off the winning time of Eggert and Benecken.
The top two sleds, the most dominant in the World Cup over the past 10 years, used home course familiarity as they used an unfathomable 10 to 11 paddles on the shallow doubles and women’s start ramp, even paddling around the start curve. Most other teams were in the eight-paddle range. The daring tactic paid dividends as the two teams dominated the start of both heats, with the exception of the Italian duo of Ludwig Rieder and Patrick Rastner who set a start record.
Eggert and Benecken, leaders by just 10 World Cup points entering the race, had the two best times of the race and totaled 1:39.777. They finished with the top point total of 872, helped by four World Cup gold medals. Wendl/Arlt, with an all-time World Cup leading 44 doubles victories, settled for the silver medal in 1:40.043 and second place on the season with 847 points. The Sics brothers took third on the year with 720 points. The latter two teams each claimed two wins this season.
Mazdzer and Terdiman clocked 1:41.444. They qualified third on Friday in the Nations Cup. Both competitors battled through injuries all season and could not race the entire schedule, but they did save their best for last to give them some impetus into the off season.
“Today’s race runs were the best we’ve had all week,” said Terdiman, a member of two Olympic teams. “After crashing on day one of training and breaking a kufen (sled runner), we started day two without realizing the sled was already broken. Needless to say, we flipped in the start curve, which we never stood a chance in, so really the Nations Cup run was our one and only ‘training run’. I’m ecstatic to come back and throw down a personal record start time on the first run and end up with our best result of the season.
“I’m very much looking forward to getting back in the weight room, after some time off, and working on my strength and explosiveness this summer. With Chris getting cleaned up (surgery) this spring, I want to be able to come out of the gates with a fire next season and really see what we can do.”
Added Mazdzer, “This off season we’re going to have a lot of work to do on the new project sled and moving forward with that. We’re going to have our work cut out for us this summer. Next season’s results will be based on the work we put in this summer. I’m confident we’ll be in a better place starting next season and building from there.”
Kellogg and Segger were in their third World Cup event after moving up from the junior ranks. They won here in the Junior World Cup in December. Kellogg/Segger, timed in 1:42.300, will give USA Luge needed depth in doubles in the seasons leading up to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.