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USA Luge gears up for World Championships in Germany

Mazdzer’s neck problem may limit his participation

January 25, 2019
Lake Placid News

WINTERBERG, Germany - Twenty-three nations and 121 athletes are in Winterberg, Germany, this week for the 2019 Luge World Championships, the first such event since 2017.

Events in all five disciplines are set for Jan. 25-27. An opening ceremony is on tap the night of Thursday, Jan. 24.

USA Luge is in the midst of a two-week preparation period at this venue in Hochsauerland, which is hosting the World Championships for the third time. The site has seen significant updates to its sliding track and related infrastructure.

Six American athletes participated from Jan. 14-20 in the International Training Week for all competitors. But one of the U.S. six - 2018 Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer - is nursing a neck issue and has missed a week of training.

"On the second training run of the first day, I felt something slip in my neck," Mazdzer said in a press release. "It caused me severe pain. Luckily, we have a fantastic staff."

The problem occurred when he pulled from the start handles.

Mazdzer said because it's World Championships week, there are two trainers and a doctor of chiropractic care with the team.

"We've had three people trying to me back up to the point where I can slide. We've had a hard time getting imaging on such short notice. But (Tuesday), I'll be going in to see a doctor and hopefully get an MRI.

"If I sleep wrong it's super painful and I can't really move. I haven't trained in singles or doubles. I've been watching my teammates crush it going down the track, (unofficially) setting track records."

Mazdzer added that he may forego singles and concentrate on doubles and the team relay.

The competitors are now in the official training week, which gives them five runs prior the weekend championships.

In addition to its technical nature and high speed, Winterberg can also challenge the luge racers with summer weather. In recent years, warm, wet elements impacted World Cup races, and left many athletes muttering to themselves. But the past few weeks has shown a cooperative Winterberg.

The resort is a veritable winter sports mecca, and will continue to play that role this week. Weather and conditions presented consistently good ice during the training week, hence the fast times that Mazdzer referenced. The same conditions should prevail through the coming weekend. Temperatures are forecasted for the middle and upper 20s with some weekend snow showers.

Competitions begin Friday morning with qualifications for the single-heat World Championship sprint races later in the day. The top 15 from qualifying in the three disciplines will advance to the medal round.

In the most recent World Cup sprint race last month in Lake Placid, Summer Britcher captured a silver medal, as did the doubles team of Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman. Emily Sweeney was just off the sprint podium by only 0.01 of a second.

At the 2017 event in Igls, Austria, USA Luge collected a team-high three World Championship medals. Erin Hamlin had a hand in all three, including the sprint world title, silver in singles and silver with the relay team. Now retired, Hamlin is in the midst of a two-week stint as an assistant coach.

Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, and Sweeney, of Suffield, Connecticut, will represent the U.S. in Winterberg and will race the individual events. One of them will qualify for the team relay.

A 2018 Olympian, Sweeney delayed the start of her season until the second World Cup race at Whistler, British Columbia, and promptly threw down a bronze medal time. Two weeks later in Lake Placid, she missed another bronze medal, again, by 0.01.

Both have good memories from Winterberg: Sweeney picked up a World Cup sprint race victory last season with Britcher second. A day earlier, Britcher took the singles bronze.

"Before last season, I had not seen success here," Sweeney said. "And so that was quite a surprise for me. The good thing about Winterberg is that it is a long track and my strength is in my sliding, so it gives me more track to make up time. So that's why it was good for me last year and I hope it'll be good for me this year."

Britcher, a two-time Olympian, meanwhile, has picked up the pace in recent weeks, posting three consecutive World Cup medals, including silver and bronze leading into Winterberg. She is third in the tour standings. Two years ago, Britcher, with five World Cup wins on her resume, was the gold medalist in the U23 World Championships.

"I've always thought this was a fun track," Britcher said. "I was on the podium last year, and some promising results in the past leading up to that gave me hope going into that moment. It's a long track with pretty high speed to the bottom which is a lot of fun. As I've said in the past, I love competing on cold, hard ice and it looks like that's what we'll have this week so I'm pretty excited."

If Mazdzer, a three-time Olympian from Saranac Lake, cannot race in singles, it will be up to Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, and Jonny Gustafson, from Massena.

West also holds a U23 world title and is trying to capture the form that has led the two-time Olympian to three World Cup gold medals. Gustafson, meanwhile, has shown great improvement this year, and posted a number of impressive training times last week.

As has been the case all season, USA Luge has one doubles team. In October, Mazdzer rejoined 2014 and 2018 Olympian Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania. In their first season together after 10 years apart, they are sixth in the World Cup standings. As juniors, they reached the podium in Winterberg, while Terdiman, with then partner Christian Niccum, medaled here in their first World Cup race together in December 2010.

Mazdzer and Terdiman, in addition to the silver medal last month, anchored both team relay podium results.

The relay will conclude World Championships. The United States has medaled in two of the four World Cup meets to date, and won a World Championship silver medal two years ago in Igls.

Fans can follow via live streaming on OlympicChannel.com, starting with the sprint finals on Friday (see fil-luge.org live ticker for the morning qualification runs). Eight hours of broadcast coverage is scheduled from Winterberg: NBC Sports Network Jan. 26 from 8 to 10 a.m. ET; the Olympic Channel Jan. 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. ET and Jan. 27 from 2 to 3 p.m. ET; NBC Sports Network Jan. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. ET and Jan. 28 from 10:30 p.m. to midnight ET.

 
 

 

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