U.S. luge sliders open track in Lake Placid Hoevenberg

LAKE PLACID — As snow flurries swirled around the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid Monday morning, Jonny Gustafson of USA Luge officially opened the sliding season with the first run of autumn.

Despite snow piling up causing a one-hour delay to the training session, Gustafson, of Massena, was ecstatic to finally get the season underway.

“It feels awesome to be back on ice,” he remarked. “I haven’t slid personally since Koenigsee (Germany) and the race there in March. I love this. It’s so much fun to be back on ice. It’s as simple as that.”

Shortly thereafter, Emily Sweeney, of Lake Placid, a 2018 Olympian and 2019 World Championship bronze medalist added, “I miss this.”

When training on the mile-long run at Mount Van Hoevenberg ended, Sweeney said, “This year it means a lot more. It’s been a crazy year for everyone. When you’re on the sled it’s all that matters. That was awesome. This is the first year in many years that I’ve started the season in Lake Placid. Normally we start in Lillehammer. (Today) It was comfortable more quickly — it’s home.”

Her teammate Brittney Arndt outlined her strategy for these first few days of the new season. “It’s awesome to be back on ice,” said the Park City, Utah resident. “It feels so good to be back on the sled. I’m working on my position, making adjustments to my sled, making sure I’m really relaxed and comfortable.”

After coaching in Canada and Korea, Robert Fegg, a German native, took over as USA Luge head coach in the spring. After the sudden arrival of winter and subsequent delay in the morning, Fegg was smiling after the session. “Training itself went really well. The athletes got back into the groove really quickly. They looked like they were enjoying it a lot, they handled the first day really nicely, so it looked really good.”

The start of the 2020-21 season was a much-anticipated session. It was also the team’s initial training of the year on a full-length track as the coronavirus and subsequent quarantine mandates precluded athletes from traveling to Norway and then Central Europe in October. Before this, the only ice the Americans had seen in the past six months was in their new refrigerated start training complex in Lake Placid.

“It’s awesome out here. I actually wasn’t expecting it (the weather),” said 2018 Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, and Salt Lake City. “Day one it’s cold, there’s snow and we’re back into the season. We’ve got good weather, it’s full on. We can do testing on this ice. We’ll be good for the next couple of months so it just feels good being back.”

Once again, Mazdzer will compete in singles and doubles.

A total of 14 luge athletes participated on opening day from start number three (women’s singles and doubles). The group was comprised of veteran sliders and a sprinkling of newcomers elevated from the junior ranks. Jayson Terdiman, who teams with Mazdzer on the team’s top doubles sled, was among the more experienced competitors cruising down Mount Van Hoevenberg on Monday. He did so in a singles sled, and revealed later that it had been eight years since he was unaccompanied by another going down a track.

“It felt really good. From the first run I was a little nervous. It’s been eight years since I’ve seen,” remarked the two-time Olympian from Berwick, Pennsylvania, whose position behind Mazdzer on a doubles sled normally eliminates any view of the course. “Today I was right down the middle, all the way down the track. Thankfully the coaches had me on a very nice, safe setup.

“Right now, for me sliding singles is about gaining feeling,” Terdiman added. “I’m not missing out on runs because Chris is doing singles and I’m sitting on the sidelines. Now I’m able to take runs as well. Get that feeling back which hopefully will allow us, when we jump on the doubles sled, to start off even further along the process than we would be if I hadn’t been sliding.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the U.S. squad to skip the first four World Cup meets of the year starting in three weeks, and train on home ice until late December. They plan to connect with the tour in January and focus their preparation on the 2021 World Championships in Koenigssee, Germany and the pre-Olympic training runs and ensuing World Cup event on the new 2022 Beijing Olympic course.


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