IGLS, Austria - Chris Mazdzer became the first American Saturday to secure 2014 Olympic team nomination by finishing fourth in a World Cup men’s luge race at this two-time Winter Olympic site just outside Innsbruck.
Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y, pre-qualified for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games last season with his sixth place result at the 2013 World Championships. Nursing a sore shoulder he verified that nomination by virtue of today’s top five result.
"So close.....so close," said Mazdzer as he came off his sled, just 0.03 of a second from his first career podium result. It was his best World Cup result to date. Previously he took fifth last February in Lake Placid.
"It started snowing about halfway through the second run," said the 2010 Olympian. "I saw people coming from behind gaining multiple places. You saw people that were going faster now going slow. You try not to focus on that, but in the back of your mind you’re wondering, ’What’s going on?’"
Meanwhile, two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin placed sixth, following a German sweep of the top four spots. Hamlin’s second top nine result in as many weeks satisfies one of the criteria for Sochi nomination. At this point, the Remsen, N.Y. racer has a leg up on other teammates. Summer Britcher’s eighth place effort Saturday gives her one top nine result.
"My first run was pretty good," said Hamlin, who turned 27 earlier in the week. "There were one or two very minor things where I could have gained speed. I was pretty happy with it. The second run was a little sloppier so I didn’t really capitalize on the opportunity to keep my spot. There were a few more mistakes there. But I’m pretty happy with the result and working my way up."
Defending Olympic champion Felix Loch, of Germany, led the team’s gold-silver achievement, as Loch posted the two fastest times of the race. He clocked 50.495 and 50.383 seconds, for a total of 1 minute, 40.878 seconds on an Igls course that is shorter than most.
Moeller, 2010 Olympic silver medal winner and four-time world champion, was runner-up in 1:41.052, with 20 year old Italian wunderkind Dominik Fischnaller, last week’s winner in Lillehammer, claiming the bronze medal in 1:41.102. Mazdzer’s fourth place time was 1:41.133, just ahead of Armin Zoeggeler, racing before throngs of Armin’s Army hoping to see the 39 year old land on the podium yet again. The five time Olympic medalist, however, did the unthinkable - touching a wall - and lost a chance at his 100th World Cup medal.
"Unfortunately at the bottom, I tried to push it out of (curve) 11 too much and it gave me some weird side pressure," stated Mazdzer. "It pushed me early onto 12 and I skidded up the curve a little bit....just enough to cost me a couple of hundredths. Besides that the runs were really good, but here in Igls you have to have two perfect runs to medal and I almost did that."
Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, was 24th in 1:41.991; Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn., Friday’s Nations Cup winner, took 26th in 1:42.102; Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y., wound up 30th in 1:42.509.
Natalie Geisenberger, of Germany, holds all the current women’s trophies: World Champion, World Cup overall champion and European Champion. But teammate Tatyana Huefner is in possession of the biggest prize, the 2010 Olympic title. The oddsmakers, however, are betting that changes hands in less than three months in Sochi.
Geisenberger, the winner of the season’s first two World Cups, had times of 40.128 and 40.007 for an aggregate of 1:20.135. She will go to Sochi looking to add to her Vancouver bronze medal.
Huefner, battling through back issues, was a threat in both heats and finished her day in 1:20.167. Anke Wischnewski was in third place in 1:20.311.
Austrian Nina Reithmeyer, the surprising Vancouver silver medalist, took fifth, just ahead of Hamlin’s 1:20.646. Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., was timed in 1:20.709.
"My first run was pretty good and I was happy with that," said Britcher, a 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist on the same track. "But I had some issues out of curves nine and 10.
Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, had the second fastest starts of each leg, but drifted back to 12th place in 1:20.834.
Kate Hansen, the 2008 Junior World Champion and 2013 Norton National Champion from La Canada, Calif., was 23rd in 1:21.238. Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., could only compete in Nations Cup events over the first two weeks as she finished fifth in the fall seeding series.
As different storylines unfold in the Olympic season, one of emerging interest concerns USA Luge’s continuing sled evolution, courtesy of the Norton formula for steel running surfaces in collaboration with US Steel, Dow Chemical’s development of carbon fiber runners (kufens), and the personalization and comfort of the sled pods engineered by Clarkson University.
"I used most of the weeks in the fall to eliminate different set-ups and figure out what goes fast," said Hamlin. "I was really glad we got on so many tracks in the fall because it helped me do that pretty successfully. Right now I like how everything is working. I’m on the Dow kufens and they’re doing great and I’m happy with that. Hopefully I can get them down the hill twice really clean and we’ll see what happens."
Mazdzer is equally happy with how the team’s research and development is emerging.
"I have been making some changes with my pod, going for comfort," added Mazdzer. "I made another little adjustment in how the pod feels, and it felt good all week. Sometimes you make a little change and it feels good right away.
"I’m running the Dow kufens right now and I also have the steels that Norton engineered. Those two major components are definitely helping out. I feel really comfortable right now. Hopefully things will keep getting a little better."
World Cup racing in Igls concludes Sunday with doubles followed by the first team relay of the season. The latter event makes its Olympic debut in Sochi.
Sunday’s competitions will be streamed live on www.UniversalSports.com, with living timing and scoring on the FIL website at www.fil-luge.org.
Chris Mazdzer Part 1 2 Interview (audio)Erin Hamlin Part 1 2 3 Interview (audio)Summer Britcher Part 1 2Aidan Kelly Part 1Kate Hansen Part 1 2Taylor Morris Part 1 2
Above: Chris Mazdzer en route to a fourth palce finish in World Cup #2 in Igls Austria on November 23. AP photo. Erin start igls
Above: Erin Hamlin at the start of run #1 in Igls Austria on November 23, 2013. Coach Bill Tavares watches. Photo: Brett Westsumer start igls
Above: Summer Britcher at the start of run #1 in Igls Austria on November 23, 2013. Coach Bill Tavares watches. Photo: Brett WestJulia WC 2
Above: Julia Clukey racing in World Cup #2 in Igls Austria on November 23. AP photo.