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USA Luge Shows Unprecedented Success In New Race Format

By USA Luge | Dec. 14, 2014, 12:59 a.m. (ET)

(L-R) Tucker West (silver), Chris Mazdzer (gold) and Canadian Sam Edney celebrate after the men's sprint world cup competition on Dec. 13, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta.

CALGARY, Alberta – As soon as Chris Mazdzer awoke on Saturday morning he knew it was going to be a different kind of day.

“I was not expecting rain and snow,” said the two-time Olympian and six-time Norton National Champion from Saranac Lake, N.Y. “I didn’t see that in the forecast at all. When I saw it was just a huge mix, I was pretty concerned because, frankly, we seem to have a little bit of trouble in that stuff.”

But not today as USA Luge scored four FIL Viessmann World Cup medals, including a sprint gold from Mazdzer, following his bronze in a shortened men’s singles race. Tucker West, the men’s singles winner last week in Lake Placid, slid to a sprint silver medal behind Mazdzer. It’s the first time in USA Luge history that two athletes were on the same singles podium.

Erin Hamlin, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion, scored a sprint silver. It came a week after her World Cup singles silver medal in Lake Placid.

The capricious Calgary weather usually takes the headlines and Saturday was no different as it caused the first run of men’s singles to be wiped out by the jury. The FIL gendarmes ruled that normal conditions for some and heavy snowfall for others was grounds for the cancellation. It came with Canadian Sam Edney, a World Cup racer since 2005 and three-time Olympian, sitting in first place and looking for his first career medal. Mazdzer and West were part of the “snow seed” and found themselves in eighth and 11th, respectively. But it went for naught.

And then, as can occur in Calgary, the system cleared, and as day turned to evening, the 1988 Olympic track became progressively faster.

In the re-run, which became a one-heat race, the undaunted Edney once again claimed first place in 46.146 seconds. It was a faster time than the run that did not count. Edney, 30, who would later depart the Calgary Olympic Park with two medals, sat in the leader’s box as the final 15 competitors took runs at him. He became the country’s first winner of a men’s singles World Cup race.

Edney’s helmet was recently redesigned into a ferocious bear with raking claws. The artwork was personalized for Edney by 19 year old artist Richard Flamenco, who suffers from an incurable skin disease that causes blisters. Edney later credited the calmness he felt wearing that helmet. He and Flamenco were united in the winner’s box as the race developed.

Two-time defending Olympic champion and four-time World Champion Felix Loch of Germany, finished second in 46.255, with a content Mazdzer winning bronze. The American’s third career World Cup singles medal came in 46.263.

“My run in the World Cup was awesome,” continued Mazdzer. “And my run in the sprint was just me letting it fly and being as relaxed as possible.”

And fly it did as Mazdzer was timed in 30.866 on a sprint course that starts timing racers (100 meters) 330 feet below the start handles. West was right behind in 30.902, shadowed closely by Edney in 30.915.

“The training week we had here three weeks ago I blocked out of my mind,” recalled Mazdzer. “I did so bad. The ice was so hard. Turned out the sled was pulling the entire time. Because the temperatures were so low, I was out of control the whole way down. But what it taught me was to be relaxed in difficult situations. Even though the sprint cup run was a little out of control, I was nice and relaxed and that’s what the training week taught me.”

West, of Ridgefield, Conn. finished seventh in 46.462, and Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y., took 19th in 46.701.

“This has been a promising season for me,” said West, a 2014 Olympian. “Time after time I showed I have the potential to go fast and in Lake Placid I used that potential. So I’m very happy with my speed. All my summer training worked out. All the sled technology programs came together and the coaching staff is doing a great job with us. A lot of things are falling into place at the right time. Hopefully we’ll keep up this speed the rest of the season and keep advancing the next three years.”

Hamlin’s silver in the Sprint World Cup exacted some measure of revenge after a singles race Friday night that nearly ended in disaster. The resident of Remsen, N.Y., eighth in singles, was atop the sprint leaderboard with just two athletes remaining. One she defeated (Natalie Geisenberger of Germany). The other she did not. Hamlin came within 0.01 of a second from Alex Gough’s winning run of 31.749. Hamlin recorded 31.759, with Geisenberger next in 31.825.

“It was really nice to have a nice solid run from top to bottom,” stated Hamlin. “I kind of had it broken up all week. Either the top would be good and the bottom would be bad or vice versa all week. It was nice to end on that note. Especially going into the Christmas break and knowing I won’t be in competition until after Christmas it was nice to end on that high. It was a good run. I could have been a little smoother in the middle of the track, but overall the lines were pretty much spot on. So I’m pretty happy with it.”

Teammate Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. was 15th in 32.353.

The U.S. doubles team of Matt Mortensen and  Jayson Terdiman took seventh in a the sprint cup event that finally saw 2014 doubles Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt achieve the winner’s circle.

The unbeatable duo of last season has been pushed down by teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. The latter sled had won all three doubles races and the sprint cup two weeks ago. This time, however, Wendlt and Arlt turned the tide in 36.729. The second place time for Eggert and Benecken was 36.798 even though they led at the intermediate point. Latvia’s Sics brothers, Juris and Andris, Olympic bronze medal winners in 2010 and 2014, were third in 36.808. 

Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. crossed the finish in 36.939.

The Calgary series brings the Viessmann World Cup tour to the holiday break, and finds Loch leading the men’s standings with 363 overall World Cup points. Mazdzer is fourth at 263 with West fifth at 239.

Hamlin is in third place currently with 313 points. Sweeney stands seventh with 195. Geisenberger is the leader at 470.

Eggert and Benecken rule the doubles list with 485 points. Wendl and Arlt are next with 400. Mortensen and Terdiman are seventh in 210.

The tour resumes Jan. 3-4 in the picturesque Bavarian resort of Koenigssee, Germany and will conclude the 12 days of Christmas. 

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Chris Mazdzer

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Tucker West

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Erin Hamlin