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US Luge back on home ice

November 30, 2016
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The luge World Cup circuit makes its annual pilgrimage to Mount Van Hoevenberg on Friday and Saturday, and the Americans are hopeful for a repeat of last year's podium appearances.

"Last year's achievements were exceptionally strong. Six medals - three of them gold - is not easy to surpass. And the U.S. women sweeping the podium sent us over the moon," Sandy Caligiore, USA Luge spokesman, said. "We love this track and the job the ORDA crew does to provide world class ice.

"Knowledge and familiarity is a big boost, and so are the U-S-A chants from familiar faces. We won't make predictions, other than to say our athletes will throw down the best they have and hope to make lots of fans very happy."

Article Photos

Summer Britcher slides to a bronze medal during last year's World Cup luge event in Lake Placid. The US women swept the podium, with Erin Hamlin the gold-medal position and Emily Sweeney in silver.
(News file photo — Shaun Kittle)

There will be a series of races at Mount Van Hoevenberg, with the doubles race followed by the men's singles sleds taking two runs each on Friday starting at 10 a.m. The action continues on Saturday with the women's singles starting at 9:30 a.m. and the team relay at 12:40 p.m.

At last year's Lake Placid event, the U.S. women swept the podium, with Remsen native Erin Hamlin joining Summer Britcher and Emily Sweeney at the top of the field. Hamlin, an Olympic bronze medalist, set a course record last year, sliding the 1,135-meter track in 43.912 seconds to take gold. Sweeney won silver and Britcher took bronze.

Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, is coming off a gold-medal performance in last year's Lake Placid World Cup singles event. Teammate Tucker West, who won the singles event in 2014, joined Mazdzer on the podium in the silver-medal position. Mazdzer, Hamlin, Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk collaborated to win the team relay.

The U.S. team kept the momentum going last year after Lake Placid as Britcher and Hamlin were the gold and silver medalists in singles and the sprint race, respectively, while Mazdzer secured a singles gold medal at Utah Olympic Park.

Caligiore said two of the top women aren't 100 percent coming into this week's event. Sweeney is dealing with an injured wrist and Britcher has a shoulder injury.

Caligiore said the warm weather and rain shouldn't have too much of an effect on the race, and this weather is similar to what the teams raced in last week in Winterberg, Germany, which was the first stop of the World Cup circuit.

"It looks like we're going to get warm, rainy conditions during the week of training, followed by colder temps on Friday and Saturday," he said. "Sounds like last weekend in Germany. All these athletes and coaches follow the forecast closely. They'll have their game plans sorted out in advance."

The Germans captured gold medals in two races on their home track last weekend. Johannes Ludwig is leading the men, while the pair of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benekin are leading the doubles. German women Natalie Geisenberger and Dajana Eitberger have each won races this season, as has Felix Loch.

Mazdzer and West have both won races in the last year, and hope to stand atop the podium in front of the home crowd. Mazdzer and the relay team set a course record last year with a combined time of 2 minutes, 32.767 seconds.

The U.S. team will also see a new face this year, with 21-year-old John Fennell joining the team. Fennell is a Canadian who switched to the U.S. team this year. The rules say that a competitor can only race for one country in a given year.

After hosting the 2009 World Championships that saw Hamlin, an Olympic bronze medalist in Sochi, win the USA's second world title, international luge racing bypassed Lake Placid until February 2013. On that occasion, the now-retired U.S. Olympian Julia Clukey raced to a silver medal in singles and was part of the quartet that collected another runner-up finish in the team relay. Clukey was joined by Mazdzer, Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall in pocketing a team relay silver medal.

However, since 2014-2015, the International Luge Federation has brought the World Cup annually to the two-time Olympic site. The home events have provided a dose of confidence as West set a track record in winning the 2014 race, Hamlin took silver, and the West-Hamlin-Matt Mortensen-Jayson Terdiman grouping picked up a bronze medal in the team relay.

Opened in January 2000 for the Winter Goodwill Games, the always turning, technical, 19-curve luge layout may not be the World Cup's fastest, but it is one of its most demanding. The course puts the race squarely in the hands of the driver, who hopes to convert a strong start with precise steering through sections such as the Devil's Highway, Shady II, the Labyrinth, Chicane, and finally a left-right-left combination, known as the Heart, that brings the sled to the finish line. Any loss of speed prior to turn 19 will result in a major slowdown as the sled heads uphill to conclude the run.

Athletes from around the globe were set to arrive in Lake Placid Monday night. They will walk the course on Tuesday before taking to the ice Wednesday. Each athlete receives six official training runs before race day.

Competition actually begins Thursday night (Dec. 1) at 6:30 with Nations Cup qualifying. This is for luge athletes outside the first seed who must race their way into the World Cup.

American singles racers competing in the Nations Cup will be West, Taylor Morris, Jonny Gustafson, John Fennell and Raychel Germaine. Doubles in the qualifying race will be Krewson and Sherk along with Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza.

The event finale, just before 2 p.m., will be the second edition of the Running of the Balls (ROTB2). This is when more than 1,000 lacrosse balls will negotiate the track trying to make winners out of five lucky ball owners. ROTB2 is a fundraiser for USA Luge.

Friday and Saturday action, including ROTB2, will stream live on NBC Sports Network will air a one-hour broadcast Saturday night from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m.

For more information on tickets, visit



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