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West captures 8th luge start title

LAKE PLACID — Two-time United States Olympian Tucker West proved for a record eighth time Monday that he is the fastest starter on the USA Luge team and at the top of the heap on the World Cup tour.

West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, won the annual Norton USA Luge Start Championship, and in the process, christened the organization’s brand new indoor refrigerated start complex which was rebuilt in 2019 and opened for training seven months ago. The 2014 and 2018 Olympic team member posted consistent start times of 2.80 and 2.81 seconds for a combined 5.61 seconds.

His eighth victory surpassed retired Julia Clukey’s seven indoor championships.

“I’s been a weird year. It’s been a lonely summer,” said West, of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus. “I’ve been training on my own and socially distanced. I haven’t quite made it back into the (USOPC) training center yet, so I’ve been doing all of my training here lifting and doing starts. I took it the same way I do most summers. I try to focus on myself and improving with each start. I’m happy with the results today. There’s still more work to do, but overall, I’m just excited to get the season started.”

West topped Massena’s Jonny Gustafson, who recorded a pair of runs timed in 5.66 seconds. Gustafson came back later in the morning to team with Sean Hollander for the doubles victory. Third place in the men’s bracket went to junior national team member Zack DiGregorio, of Medway, Massachusetts in 5.90 seconds down one of the teams new, long start ramps.

Notable by his absence was 2018 Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, who underwent shoulder and elbow surgeries at the end of last season followed by rehabilitation. The Saranac Lake, N.Y. athlete, now married and living in Salt Lake City, is working his way to Lake Placid where hell have to quarantine before joining his teammates on the ice at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Once again, Mazdzer will compete this season in singles and with his doubles teammate Jayson Terdiman.

Another two-time Olympian, Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, the winningest World Cup singles slider in U.S. history, captured the women’s division for the fourth straight year with a two-heat combined time of 6.12. Emily Sweeney, of Lake Placid, a World Championship bronze medal winner and Pyeongchang Olympic team member, was runner-up in 6.21. Park City, Utah’s Ashley Farquharson finished third in 6.22.

The open doubles category saw an interesting combination of competitors, led by the new duo of Gustafson and Hollander, who posted the winning time of 5.89.

“We’re just testing it out at this point, Gustafson said. “Doubles has been approached to us a couple of times by the coaches. Sean has done it in the past. This is my first time, so we’re just testing it out. The starts obviously are going okay, but when the season starts up, we’ll try it and see how we feel once we’re actually on a track.”

“It’s definitely going to be challenging splitting time with both doubles and singles, but we’ll try our best and play it by ear,” added Hollander.

Second place was taken by DiGregorio and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania, in 6.02. The bronze medalists were Dana Kellogg, of Chesterfield, Massachusetts and Duncan Segger of Lake Placid, who were timed in 6.21 seconds. The team, up from the junior national ranks last year, made its World Cup debut with three races to end the 2019-2020 campaign, highlighted by an 11th place result in the finale.

Chevonne Forgan, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts with partner Sophie Kirkby, of Ray Brook took fourth place. The duo is set to compete as a doubles team this season. They entered the competition with an eye on future Olympic Games as the IOC is reviewing the possibility of adding women’s doubles in Milan/Cortina 2026.

The plan for the U.S. national team is to accumulate a maximum number of training runs on home ice in November and December. The group expects to join the World Cup tour sometime in January, with eyes on the World Championships in Koenigssee, Germany and the pre-Olympic training week and World Cup test races to end the season on the new Olympic course in Beijing.

LUGE SIDE TRACKS

Sixteen luge athletes, coaches and track construction experts of the International Luge Federation (FIL) are now en route to Beijing. Together with the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF), the first international test runs in the three Olympic sports of bobsleigh, luge and skeleton will take place on the new Olympic track in China. The pre-homologation of the new artificially-iced track at the Yanqing Sliding Center is scheduled to take place from October 26-30 despite the worldwide coronavirus crisis. U.S. assistant coach Lubomir Mick will be in attendance.

 

Earlier this month, Germany’sNatalie Geisenberger, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, returned to the ice to resume training. She stepped away from the sport last year to give birth to her first child, Leo.