Above: Hyrns and Sherk in the finish after their second run in Winterberg, Germany on November 30. AP photo.
WINTERBERG, Germany - The USA Luge doubles team of Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa., led the way Saturday in 10th place for the United States, at a World Cup event in Winterberg, Germany.
Other U.S. doubles sleds placed 16th and 17th with Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman and the team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall, respectively. The latter unit sat in seventh place at the intermission.
"We had an OK first run," said Hyrns, whose sled clocked a two-heat time of 1 minute, 28.674 seconds. "We almost crashed off (curve) 13 and kept it straight and didn’t skid. The second run was better, but it was somehow slower. I can’t really complain about it. We had a good run finally on a race day. We had bad training during the week....can’t be too angry about it."
Their time placed the team 1.18 seconds behind German winners and World Cup overall leaders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
The second half of the luge doubleheader - men’s singles - saw Winterberg live up to its name. By translation it means "winter town" and it turned into that as heavy snow fell midway through the men’s first heat. This forced the race jury to cancel the run, relegating the event to a one-heat shoot-out that was won by German rookie Chris Eissler in 52.938 seconds. Eissler’s victory occurred in his first-ever World Cup start. He admitted later that the conditions, coupled with an early start number, may have helped.
"The snow started around the fifth or sixth slider," said U.S. Program Director and double Olympic medalist Mark Grimmette. "When the snow hit the upper part of the track it was freezing to the ice and when they (track workers) tried to sweep the ice they couldn’t take it away. That left the later starters at a big disadvantage."
All four Americans finished in the top 16, highlighted by 18 year old Tucker West, in a tie for 11th place, his best World Cup result to date. Another top 15 or two top 21 finishes would enable the Ridgefield, Conn. athlete to satisfy a criteria for Olympic team nomination.
"I was happy with the run," said West, who posted 53.192 and deadlocked with Germany’s Andi Langenhan. "The weather wasn’t great here, but that’s how racing works. I’m happy that it ended like that. Being the fastest American today I’ve earned a spot in the team relay (Sunday). I’m really excited for this. I won a gold medal in the 2012 Youth Olympics. I really love that race. I have a fast reaction, a fast start, so it plays to my benefit and hopefully it works out tomorrow."
Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., was 14th in 53.210. He needs a top 21 performance in the final two weeks. Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., secured his second Olympic berth a week ago and is nursing a sore shoulder. He recorded the 15th place time of 53.224.
"It was a little disappointing today but overall things went well in Winterberg," said Mazdzer. "All four of us were in the top 20 and that’s excellent for the U.S. team. I had a lot speed going into the bottom today but this run was over a second faster than my fastest training run and unfortunately I messed up the bottom which cost me some valuable spots."
Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, took 16th in 53.228.
Eissler, fifth, sixth and 12th at the Junior World Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, defeated Armin Zoeggeler of Italy by 0.04 of a second. The five-time Olympic medalist, set to be his country’s 2014 flagbearer in Sochi, finally secured his 100th career World Cup medal. Two-time World Champion and 2010 Olympic silver medalist David Moeller was third, another 0.01 back, in 52.994.
Moeller heads the World Cup season long standings after three of nine events. His total of 240 points leads compatriot Felix Loch, fourth Saturday, by just 10 points. Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller is third with 225 points.
Mazdzer is in sixth place with 114; West is tied for 20th with 62; Kelly is 23rd with 59; Morris is 24th at 56 World Cup points.
After Sunday’s women’s singles and team relay races, the World Cup leaves Europe for a month, with the next two stops in North America. Hyrns is now anticipating a return to the friendly confines of racing much closer to home.
"Going to North America next week is going to be really, really nice. Finally getting closer to our own time zone, and be able to contact family a little more and be around English speaking people."
With just two events remaining prior to the break and Olympic team nomination, the talk will turn more and more to the nomination criteria. Sherk, however, is just focused on the steps that will lead to the desired result.
"As far as the Olympic process goes, I honestly don’t know where we stand," he stated. "But at the current time we’re just trying to focus on races and put down the best results possible.
"Going back (to North America) will be really great....being around people who speak our language, have good internet, better food. It’ll be more enjoyable knowing the holiday break is coming up."
The result gives puts Hyrns and Sherk in a position to satisfy qualification criteria. They still need two top thirteen finishes in the next two weeks, or one top 10, or one top five.
Niccum, a two-time Olympian from Woodinville, Wash. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., were 16th in 1:30.48. The duo must finish twice in the top 10 or once in the top five with events in Whistler, B.C. and Park City, Utah in the coming weeks.
Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Griffall of Salt Lake City, 13th on opening day in Lillehammer, Norway, were 17th in 1:30.363. They need a top 10 and a top 13 in the next two races, or two top ten, or one top five. Their resume shows a fifth place World Cup effort in Park City three seasons ago.
Two of the three doubles sleds will compete in Sochi. However if the process is not completely resolved in any discipline after the Utah World Cup, a race-off will be held on Dec. 14. The Olympic quota in singles is three men and three women.
The U.S. Olympic Luge Team will be officially nominated that night in a gala event at the Utah Olympic Park.
Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany, returned to the top of the podium Saturday with a half-second victory over Italians Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber. The German win came easier when their teammates, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, crashed at the end of the second heat. They were in second place at the time.
Wendl and Arlt had run times of 43.708 and 43.783 for a total of 1:27.491. Oberstolz and Gruber took silver in 1:28.040, while Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, Austria’s lone doubles entry, collected bronze in 1:28.097. Their teammates and two-time defending Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger (brothers) did not compete, telling the FIL that personal business back home necessitated their return. Austria’s young doubles unit of Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller did not start the second run.
Wendl and Arlt have 285 World Cup points, followed by Oberstolz and Gruber with Eggert and Benecken, tied at 205. Mortensen and Griffall are 14th with 80 points; Hyrns and Sherk are 18th with 73; Niccum and Terdiman are 19th with 72 points.
Two more competitions on Sunday will conclude the Winterberg program. Women’s singles and the team relay are set to begin at 4:40 AM EST.
Mark Grimmette discusses the weather-related challenges after the first heat of the men’s competition.