LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Tucker West emphatically ended a frustrating stretch of his career Sunday with a silver medal in men’s singles at the luge world cup in Lake Placid, New York, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
With a track-record time in the first of two heats at Mount Van Hoevenberg as the foundation, West, 24, earned his first individual medal since earning a bronze on the same track in December 2017. After appearing on the podium at least once in each of the previous four seasons, West had gone the 2018-19 season without claiming an individual medal.
The two-time Olympian’s quest for a fourth world cup victory came up just short. As the final competitor of the second heat, West turned in the fifth-fastest time of that heat and finished .021 seconds behind Jonas Mueller of Austria, the world cup leader. Dominik Fischnaller of Italy was third.
“It really feels great to be back,” West said. “It’s been a little bit of a hiatus with speed so it’s encouraging to finally see the speed again.”
Later in the day, West finished second to Roman Repilov of Russia in the men’s sprint race. Chris Mazdzer, the first American man to win an Olympic medal in men’s singles when he claimed silver at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, was fourth in the sprint after ending up seventh in the singles race. The American women were also quite strong in their sprint event: Summer Britcher was second to world cup overall leader Julia Taubitz of Germany by .051 seconds; Emily Sweeney was third and 20-year-old Ashley Farquharson, in her world cup rookie season, was fourth.
West set a track record of 50.607 seconds in the first heat despite having only the 13th-best start time. In the second run, his start time was 11th. Mueller’s margin of victory came in his combined start times where he was .033 seconds faster than West.
West’s sled and his approach were ideally suited for the fast conditions on a frigid, windless morning in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
“Today was really the first day I felt good on the sled,” he said. “I felt like I was able to let it run and kind of do what I used to be able to do. The start times are still a little bit slow. There is still a lot to work on, which is exciting for me to see that speed with that much to work on.”
In the first men’s singles heat, nine of the 32 sliders eclipsed the existing track record of 50.875 seconds set by Repilov in December 2017. Four of the athletes also beat the track’s start record time. Mazdzer was the first of the sliders to break Repilov’s mark with what stood up as the fourth-fastest time of the opening heat. Mazdzer was 18th in the second heat and dropped to seventh. Jonny Gustafson was 10th in the first run and finished 15th overall.
“It started out as a cold day,” West said. “When we came out it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit, I believe. The track has kind of been all over the place weather-wise in training. We had one day when it was pouring rain and it was probably 35 degrees, and another day when it was a little chillier, but the ice was still slow.
“Today was track-record ice. The ice was bulletproof hard and you just had to lay it all out, but it seemed to work out.”
West smiled at the suggestion that he had a perfect trip in the first heat.
“I think the first run was close to disaster the whole way down,” he said. “I’m not lying that that was some of the hardest ice I’ve ever slid on here. But the track crew did such an amazing job here. The profiles were gorgeous. The whole track is gorgeous. We’ve never seen a track even close to this fast. I knew it was close to disaster, but that’s kind of what luge is.”
And West acknowledged that an aggressive style is often what separates the medalists from the rest of the field.
“You always know you have to push it in this sport. These top guys are really, really good,” he said. “You really have to push it a little bit.”
The 2018-19 season was a difficult one for the Ridgefield, Connecticut, native who managed to crack the top-10 in singles just once, when he was ninth at world championships. His troubles continued with a 17th in the season-opener last weekend at Innsbruck, Austria, but everything changed in the first heat back home at Mount Van Hoevenberg. His lead was a mere .005 seconds over Repilov, and the top four were separated by .027 seconds. Mueller was standing in the leader’s box after his second run of 50.813 seconds, fourth-best of the heat, when West prepared for his start.
“There is a bit of disadvantage of being first after the first run because you do have to see everyone’s runs and the times,” West said. “You know exactly what you need to do to maintain a medal position. So it is nerve-racking. For me in this position, I was really just happy to see that there was speed there in the first run. It was almost a bit of a surreal experience for me. There was definitely less nerves than I thought there would be just because I knew that the speed was there, and hopefully I would be able to continue that through the season.”
With a loud crowd of American fans cheering in the stands at the finish, West went after the top prize from the start house.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to feel quite comfortable there,” he said. “Luge is just one of those sports where disaster can happen at any moment. But this is my home track and the track is built beautifully right now. I knew what I had to do and I knew I could lay down a run.”
West said the slow start and a late entry into curve 18 at the bottom of the course probably were the difference between the being first and second. But more important, with his medal drought over, he stepped over the track after the award ceremony to celebrate with his family and friends.
“Could it have been a gold? Probably,” he said. “But let’s not play the what-if game.”
Mike Kane is a freelance writer from Glenville, New York, who has covered Olympic sports and the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002 for many publications. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.