USA luge sliders finally compete in World Cup
KOENIGSSEE, Germany — USA Luge wrapped up its return to the Eberspacher World Cup tour on Sunday, Jan. 3 with a sixth-place effort in the Koenigssee team relay.
The United States skipped the first four World Cup races this season as a result of concerns over the coronavirus and related travel and quarantine regulations, and is now chipping off the World Cup rust after being away from international racing for so long.
In the first race of the day, 2019 World Championship bronze medalist Emily Sweeney was the top American of four with a 10th place result in women’s ingles. Later, instead of racing the lead leg in the team relay, Sweeney headed to the airport for a flight home. She’s a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) and competed in Koenigssee on earned leave time. Currently, WCAP is not authorizing any temporary duty orders due to the pandemic.
The U.S. team relay group included Summer Britcher, the doubles team of of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman, and Massena’s Jonny Gustafson. All three sleds posted sixth place times and finished in 2 minutes, 44.920 seconds.
Sweeney of Lake Placid, stood in 12th place after one leg, and rebounded in the second heat and improved to 10th place. Also for the Americans, Britcher placed 15th, and pair of Park City racers also cracked the top 20, with Ashley Farquharson sliding into 13th place and Brittney Arndt finishing 16th.
Competing this season mostly in a German bubble due to COVID-19, the home nation added three medals Sunday, finishing with seven of the 12 that were distributed. But one team — Austria — has stepped forward to present a challenge. Now adding depth by the season, the Austrians captured the team relay, and Madeleine Egle, who has overcome a severe shoulder injury, took bronze in the women’s race. Austria won three medals in Koenigssee, while Russia collected the other two.
Julia Taubitz of Germany dusted the field in the opening race of the day. As a result of her fifth victory in seven starts, she is now just four points behind World Cup tour leader and four-time Olympic gold medal winner Natalie Geisenberger. Seven straight silver medals to open her season must be some kind of International Luge Federation record as Geisenberger has made her return after bringing her son into the world. She missed all of last year.
Taubitz had the two fastest heats, while Geisenberger, second in both legs, was a distant 0.3 of a second in arrears. Egle, third in both runs, finished 0.36 from Taubitz.
The overall World Cup scoreboard shows Geisenberger with 595 points to her teammate’s 591. Another German, Dajana Eitberger, fifth on Sunday, is third on the season with 445 points. Anna Berreiter, the Nations Cup winner on Friday, was fourth in the World Cup race giving Germany four of the top five. The athletes at the upper end of the results list all displayed strong starts over Koenigssee’s long, flat first section.
Sweeney stood 12th after the opening run, but with the seventh fastest final attempt, was able to jump to 10th place.
In winning this event, Austria, along with two earlier silver medals, has closed the gap on first place Germany. The leaders, relegated to second place Sunday by 0.19 of a second, are atop the World Cup overall standings after four of six competitions. Germany has 345 points to Austria’s 325. Russia is third with 275.
The three USA Luge sleds were sixth across the board in the team’s first relay since picking up a World Cup silver medal in Koenigssee 10 months ago at the World Cup final.
The World Cup now moves to Sigulda, Latvia for next weekend’s series. The trek begins with two charter flights bringing the tour to Riga, followed by the weekly COVID testing of all traveling members at the beginning of the week.
The World Cup racing at Konigssee kicked off on Saturday, Jan. 2 with men’s singles and the doubles competition.
Mazdzer was the top American in singles, clocking a two-run total time of 1:39.459 to finish 15th in a field of 31 sleds. His result was 1.241 seconds behind the gold medalist, Felix Hole of Germany, who won with a 1:38.218 combined effort. Russia’s Roman Repilov was runner-up in 1:38.503 and Germany’s Johannes Ludwig placed third in 1:38.919.
Gustafson was the other U.S. sled in the men’s field, with the Massena native finishing 20th with a 1:39.000 result.
Mazdzer and Terdiman were the lone American entry in doubles and the pair clocked a 1:42.222 to finish 13th in a field that started with 24 sleds. They were nearly 2 seconds off the winning time of 1:40.284 put down by Germany’s Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. The Germans also grabbed second with Tobias Wendl and Tobia Arlt sliding to a 1:40.425 result and Austians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller taking third in 1:40.754.
After finally getting a taste of this winter’s World Cup competition, the Americans headed to their next stop and the tour’s sixth of the season in Sigula, Latvia.
The competition includes men’s and women’s singles, doubles and a team relay.