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West brings in another gold

December 13, 2016
Lake Placid News

WHISTLER, British Columbia - The long and the short of it on Saturday night at the Whistler Sliding Centre was Tucker West and Wolfgang Kindl.

Sochi Olympian West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, north of 6-feet tall, bested the compact Austrian dynamo, Kindl, in a Viessmann World Cup luge race to end a bizarre week on the 2010 Olympic track.

For the American, it was his second consecutive World Cup gold medal and third of his young career. It was West's first win away from Lake Placid. His track record time of 50.109 seconds edged Kindl by 0.04 of a second. Kindl, who won a junior world title in Lake Placid, has risen through the ranks since 2013-2014. He, too, has clearly staked his claim as a weekly contender.

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Tucker West

"This was a crazy week. It was extremely difficult," West said. "We started training today. We only had three runs which is half of what we usually get. We had training here the beginning of the year which helped a ton. I'm glad I was able to come here and show what I can do, so I'm thrilled with the race."

Germany's Andi Langenhan took the bronze medal in 50.243. World Cup leader Felix Loch was sixth.

Emily Sweeney led the U.S. women with a fourth-place effort to begin the night as the U.S. placed all four racers in the top 11. American doubles were eighth, 11th and 13th.

The event capped a three-race night that saw each event reduced to one-run shootouts due to a very condensed schedule caused by late-arriving sleds. A massive snowstorm in western Canada delayed the arrival of the teams' sleds until Friday evening. All training occurred on Saturday, and the Nations Cup qualifier was canceled, as was the team relay.

In addition, only the top 24 women, 24 doubles and 32 men were allowed to race. This was done in order to complete the program before the equipment had to be packed for the drive to Park City, Utah.

USA Luge's John Fennell, ranked outside the 32 in World Cup points as he has not competed in all events prior to Whistler, was among the athletes who traveled across the continent, waited all week to train and race, but ended up on the sidelines with no chance to qualify. The former Canadian competitor from Calgary, now racing for USA Luge, was recruited to provide color commentary for the International Luge Federation's live stream.

With access to the track reduced in half, West fell back on the week of fall training here last month.

"We had 40 runs in November, so we were really confident in our ability to lay it down," he explained. "But we didn't know how the harder ice would play out, so we bumped up the angle (for more control), but you still never know what's going to happen. In the first run (of training) I unfortunately crashed and had to make mental adjustments for the harder ice. It seemed to work from there on out."

West, a Union College student in Schenectady, made it dramatic. After being separated from his sled for a week and then crashing when he reconnected with it, the 21-year-old remained undaunted. He posted the two fastest runs in the rest of the session and carried the momentum into this third stop of nine on the World Cup tour.

"The run was pretty good," West said. "Each run today was actually getting better and better. I had a little issue up top so I knew I had to do all I could to really make up that time. My bottom section I thought was pretty awesome."

The Whistler layout, adjacent to one of the world's finest ski and snowboard experiences, is quite docile as it gets underway. But it finishes with men reaching top speeds of 92 miles per hour over its 16 turns.

"The slower speeds up top really let me push position and set the precedent for the run as the speeds get faster and faster," West said. "Typically, when tracks are faster off the bat, it's hard to focus on position. But this allows me to set that precedent to stay smooth and establish that aerodynamic position. I really enjoy these kinds of sliding tracks."

The remainder of the U.S. lineup saw Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, slide to 17th in 50.570. Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, in just his second World Cup start, took 19th in 50.670, while Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, encountered two walls and nearly left his sled, all just below the start, to place 31st in 53.609.

In a tight men's World Cup battle, Loch stands atop the list with 260 points, followed by teammate Johannes Ludwig, seventh Saturday, with 255. Kindl has 251.

Had West not been disqualified two weeks ago in Winterberg, Germany, where he lost potential points in singles and the sprint race, he could arguably be leading the World Cup. He's eighth on the season with 200 World Cup points, leading all U.S. competitors.

Canada's Alex Gough took advantage of the scheduling chaos as she set a track record of 38.796 en route to a gold medal in women's singles. The 10-turn, high-speed women and doubles track is shorter than most after all starts were lowered post 2010.

The Americans put four in the top 11, with Emily Sweeney leading the effort in fourth place, 0.09 of a second off the podium, despite tweaking her injured wrist.

All four athletes bettered the previous track record. The Suffield, Connecticut racer was timed in 38.940, followed by 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, in sixth place in 38.990. Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, recorded 39.013 for seventh place, with Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Georgia, 11th, in 39.076.

"I had a big mistake at the bottom which cost me a lot of time," Sweeney said. "So I had room to be up there on the podium, but I'll take it. I clinched my world (championship) qualification today so I'm happy."

The fourth-place result was Sweeney's best, coming three weeks into the young season. The 2013 Junior World Champion has a 2015 World Cup silver medal in singles to her credit. The week of inactivity made for unique circumstances. Sweeney said she spent time in the gym, and tried to take some nature walks in bitterly cold weather.

"You just have to roll with it," she continued. "I made a comment that this season for me has been crazy and everything has been going wrong, starting with my wrist. So I'm just used to taking what's coming to me and going with it."

Gough was accompanied on the podium by two Germans who collected Olympic medals at Whistler nearly seven years ago. Natalie Geisenberger, the 2010 Vancouver bronze medalist, took silver Friday night in 38.848. Tatjana Huefner, the Olympic gold medal winner here, settled for bronze in 38.850.

Huefner, with 37 career World Cup victories, needs one more to become the tour's all-time leading winner. She and Geisenberger are tied at the top of the World Cup standings with 310 points.

Sweeney, in eighth place, tops three U.S. racers in the top 10 on the season. Hamlin and Britcher are deadlocked in ninth. The three are separated by only three World Cup points. Germaine is 16th.

The doubles event saw the resumption of the German rivalry between the teams of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. For several seasons, the latter group was virtually unbeatable, having won Sochi Olympic gold, the world championships and the World Cup overall crown.

Now, after chasing them for two years, Eggert and Benecken have overtaken their teammates with their fourth straight victory to open the season. With a maximum 400 World Cup points, they are firmly in first place in the winter-long race.

Saturday's winners posted a track record of 38.582, just 0.02 faster than Wendl and Arlt. Peter Penz and Georg Fischler were the bronze medalists, 0.10 from the winners.

After their World Cup silver medal last week in Lake Placid, Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman had an excellent training session earlier Saturday and seemed poised to continue the momentum. But their best was an eighth place finish in 38.809. Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., are in fourth place in the overall World Cup rankings with 237 points. They concluded last season fifth-ranked.

Justin Krewson, of Eastport and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, were 11th in 38.885, while Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Michigan, and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah, took 13th in 38.946.

Some 30 hours after the sleds finally arrived, they had to be repacked and loaded on trucks Saturday night headed to Park City, Utah, for the fourth round of World Cup action next Friday and Saturday (Dec. 16-17).



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