West, Britcher dominate Italian start

MERANSEN, Italy – Two-time Olympians Tucker West and Summer Britcher captured their respective divisions Saturday in the annual international luge start competition in Meransen, Italy. They were the only Americans to make the trip.

The South Tyrolean ski village, near Austria, holds the event in Meransen’s covered, outdoor start facility, used by the Italian national team in the off-season. USA Luge will have its annual Norton indoor start race on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. in Lake Placid. It’s completely inside and conducted on artificial ice.

Coaches and athletes use these events to gauge their off-season start preparation with just a few weeks until teams return to full-length outdoor tracks. Many squads will commence that training in Lillehammer, Norway in late September and early October.

Britcher’s margin of victory was 0.12 of a second as she defeated a pair of Italian Olympians. Andrea Voetter and Sandra Robatscher placed second and third, respectively.

“It went pretty well,” said Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. “I was a little bit worried about trying to compete so soon after traveling and flying overseas, but we were able to get ready and be prepared in time. It was a good competition.”

Britcher, who set the track record last February at the Pyeongchang Olympics, recorded a three-run total time of 14.601 seconds at the facility that overlooks the Alps and includes not only the start, but settling into the sled and executing a start curve before crossing the finish line. She posted the fastest run times in all three legs of the race.

West has won the Lake Placid version of this race six times, and held off the challenge of Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller by less than 0.02 of a second. Fischnaller closed quickly in Pyeongchang to finish fourth at the Winter Games. The runner-up’s cousin, Kevin Fischnaller, finished third.

West clocked a combined 13.713 seconds, winning two of the three heats.

“It was good,” said West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut. “I’m coming off a bit of a shoulder injury. It’s an overuse injury, but I recovered in time for Meransen. It was nice to see that the start times were still there. There’s still a lot of work to do, but luckily we still have a little bit of summer in front of us.”

Teammate Chris Mazdzer, 2018 Olympic silver medalist from Saranac Lake, did not compete. Mazdzer has been training diligently at his off-season training base in Salt Lake City, and will re-join the team in Lake Placid next month.

Meanwhile, his teammates are using the warmer months to gear up for the start of the next Olympic cycle to Beijing.

“I’m feeling really good, really positive,” said Britcher, who is USA Luge’s all-time leader with five World Cup victories. “Last season ended with a little bit of a heartbreak (at the Olympics) and it’s been sitting heavy on me during the off-season. This was the first competition since the Olympics, so it felt really good to come out, perform well and makes me really look forward to the season.”

West is also a World Cup winner with multiple tour medals. He is eyeing the season-opener not too far from Meransen, in Igls, Austria over Thanksgiving weekend.

“Summer is going well,” he said. “Everything is pretty much going according to plan. Sometimes it’s a little tough to find the motivation for the training the year after the Games, but I think the team’s done a great job, overall, at finding that motivation and getting that extra little bit of training in to try to get that edge on the world.”