KOENIGSSEE, Germany – USA Luge began its final push to the Sochi Olympic Winter Games and finished the first weekend of World Cup racing in 2014 with a fifth place effort in the team relay Sunday in Koenigssee, Germany. The event makes its Olympic debut on Thursday, Feb. 13.
Earlier in the day, Americans Chris Mazdzer and Tucker West placed 21st and 23rd, respectively, in the World Cup singles race. Aidan Kelly did not finish the opening run. All three have been nominated to the 2014 Olympic team.Germany concluded the 12 days of Christmas in dreary, drizzly and snowless Bavaria by sweeping all four gold medals, and with apologies to lyricist Rev. John Henry Hopkins, could almost be heard singing their rendition of “We Four Kings of Koenigssee are…..”On the final day of the holiday program Felix Loch drubbed the men’s singles field, defeating Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, who turned 40 years of age on Saturday, by over 0.8 of a second. After lunch the German relay team, with their weekend race winners in the lineup, took the new Olympic event when they drubbed Canada en route to World Cup gold.
Germany’s team was comprised of Natalie Geisenberger, Loch and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Their relay time of 2 minutes, 42.781 seconds was 1.7 second better than silver medalist Canada. Italy was third in a distant 2:44.681.The winners lead the overall World Cup team relay standings with 439 points after four gold medals in five events. Italy is second with 350, followed closely by the U.S. with 345.
The U.S. quartet of Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., and the doubles sled of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. with Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City accrued a time of 2:44.879.The men’s singles race was also never in doubt as Loch opened with a track record run of 48.982 seconds, staking him to a 0.4 of a second advantage on his home course. He came back in 49.284 for a total of 1:38.266. Loch’s third triumph of the World Cup campaign gives the defending Olympic champion 485 points in the season long chase.Zoeggeler’s silver medal time was 1:39.129, with Switzerland’s Gregory Carigiet, after 10 years of training in the German camp, achieving his first World Cup medal. The ebullient Carigiet got the bronze medal in 1:39.203.
The Italian, with two Olympic titles among his five medals, is ranked second overall with 421 points. In his sixth Olympic appearance, Zoeggeler will carry the Italian flag on Feb. 7 at the Opening Ceremony. Teammate Dominik Fischnaller, the Lillehammer World Cup winner, is third with 415 points after his fourth place finish Sunday.
Mazdzer was victimized in the lower sections of the singles race. The problems sent him back to 28th place after the first run, but with no quit in him, the 25 year old threw down the third fastest second heat and pulled up seven spots. His 21st place time was 1:40.309.
Mazdzer stands fifth on the year with 304 World Cup overall points.Similarly, West, 18, of Ridgefield, Conn., used the 10th best final run and elevated himself from 27th to 23rd. The youngest U.S. male to ever achieve nomination to the Olympic team clocked a two-heat total of 1:40.385. West is 16th in the standings with 139 points.
"The race wasn't exactly what I was looking for," said West. "I started out with a pretty large problem up in the S curves, which put me pretty far back in the field. I was able to put down a clean second run, which I was fairly happy with. However, unfortunately, because of how far back I was, I was unable to gain very many spots. It's good to see that I have the speed. Now it's just a matter of putting a clean race down the hill. Although the result wasn't optimal, this race gives me confidence going into these next few races leading up to the Games.
"Kelly, 19, of West Islip, N.Y. and West are in their first full seasons of World Cup action. Kelly is ranked 28th on the season with 95 points.
The U.S. Luge Team now packs its sleds and bags for the 300 mile drive due north to Oberhof, Germany and next weekend’s slate of three World Cup races (no team relay). Training begins Tuesday.