Above center: Tucker West, winner of Igls, Austria Nations Cup. All photos and videos courtesy of Brett West.
IGLS, Austria - United States luge racers Tucker West and Summer Britcher returned to the scene of their 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medals Friday, with West dusting the 53-man field in the Nations Cup qualifier, while Britcher finished fourth, only 0.06 of a second from the gold medal and 0.2 from the bronze.
Both U.S. athletes, members of the junior national team, were on the winning YOG relay team at this same venue nearly two years ago and advanced to Saturday’s World Cup singles races.
A pair of American doubles sleds also made it to the weekend as Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk finished seventh, with two-time Olympian Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman taking eighth.
West’s victory, by 0.12 of a second over Russian Semen Pavlichenko, puts the Ridgefield, Conn. athlete in Saturday’s World Cup event on the Igls track that also hosted the 1964 and 1976 Olympic luge competitions as part of the Innsbruck Olympic Winter Games.
"Training went pretty well this week," said West. "We had fairly poor weather throughout the week, so the ice was inconsistent. However luckily, I was able to adapt and post a good run today. Due to the Youth Olympics I’ve had a surplus of training here, which definitely gave me confidence coming into this week."
Training started with rain and snow creating softer, frosty ice conditions. But race day broke clear and cold, translating into a harder and faster racing surface.
At just 18 years of age, West is the fastest starter on the American men’s team, having won the annual summer start championship three straight years. He used that quick getaway to create separation on the short Igls course that tends to bunch competitors together. West has also committed to evolving technological advancements with the combination of Norton, Dow Chemical, Clarkson University and US Steel.
"I’ve been focusing on my sliding position, and really getting comfortable on the sled," he continued. "I’ve been riding the Dow kufens (sled runners) for the majority of the season, and I believe that they really showed their true colors on this track. The ride felt very smooth, and I was really able to get comfortable while sliding."
West has also received a psychological boost in that his father, Brett, is traveling the World Cup circuit for a few weeks. "Having my dad here is always nice," stated the younger West. "Who doesn’t love seeing family after being away from home for so long?
"Hopefully I’m able to translate the confidence gained from today into tomorrow when the real racing starts."
The winner’s run was timed in 50.753 seconds. Teammate Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, qualified with the sixth best time, clocking 50.994. Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y. was 18th in 51.114 and advanced to the weekend.
Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. did not qualify, posting 51.862, while 2010 Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., was exempt due to his status in the first seed of racers.
Britcher, 19, of Glen Rock, Pa., is getting her first real taste of luge racing at the elite level. Her time of 40.310 trailed Austria’s Nina Reithmeyer, 2010 Olympic silver medalist, who won the Nations Cup event in 40.246.
"It feels good actually," said Britcher. "I knew if I had a good run I’d make it in, and that’s what I did. I had a little trouble out of curve 13. I had trouble there in training so it was no surprise. But it was nice coming back from that with a good finish."
Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., the 2013 Junior World Champion, was 10th in 40.414. While Britcher started slower than Sweeney, the former gained time down the course, while Sweeney fell back after posting the fifth best start time in the field.
Britcher will get Saturday’s World Cup start, joining exempt athletes Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, and Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif.
The men’s World Cup quota is five sleds per nation, while the women receive four entries per country. Sweeney placed fifth in the fall seeding series.
Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., registered a time of 40.271, with Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash, and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. next in 40.292 despite having the fastest start time.
The Russian team of Andrey Bogdanov and Andrey Medvedev won the race in 40.123.
Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City are in the first seed, giving them a bye into Sunday’s doubles event.
The Igls World Cup weekend will be streamed live on Universal Sports.
Follow the Igls World Cup event with live timing and scoring on the FIL website.
Both singles races are set for Saturday, with doubles and the team relay on Sunday.