Christian Niccum, front, and Jayson Terdiman of the U.S. speed down the ice channel during the doubles at the luge World Cup in Oberhof, Germany, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Also women’s singles Hansen 12th, Britcher 16th; Doubles Mortensen-Griffall 11th
OBERHOF, Germany – On another warm, snowless day in the Thuringia region of Germany, USA Luge was led by Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman, who finished their season-best ninth Saturday in a World Cup luge doubles race in Oberhof.
“The sled is running a lot better. I knew where our mistakes were and how we could go faster,” said Niccum, nominated last month to his third Olympic team. “Earlier this season I didn’t know what to do to go faster, but today it was clear."
“It’s great to come back and get a season high finish,” chimed in Terdiman. “It’s only ninth place and we have aspirations for better than this."
“Now is the first time we’ve been suited up with the new sled design that our team’s been working on with Dow to get some materials into the sled,” continued Niccum. “We need to get it all dialed in, get healthy, and then do the right things on the sled to see how fast it can go.
”In addition to Dow’s collaboration lending to a faster sled design, team sponsor Norton has partnered with US Steel on a formula for the running surfaces. The total effect this season has led to four World Cup silver medals.
“Riding this new set up is definitely sending us in a positive direction,” added Terdiman, selected to his first Olympic team. “It’ll take a few more runs to get ourselves 100 percent on it, but as long as we can keep on moving up in the standings these next few weeks, especially going to Sochi, the confidence will continue to rise as well.
”The two Americans skipped last week’s event in Koenigssee, Germany to test equipment in Park City, Utah. Niccum, battling stomach issues, and Terdiman, returned to see that they missed nothing at all: Germany has an advantage at home. They not only dominated the doubles field with gold and silver medal performances on Saturday, but then swept the top four places in women’s World Cup singles.
The United States women were paced by veteran slider Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., who placed 10th.
“Oberhof has never been one of my favorite places to race, but the track was built really well and training wasn't too bad, although the track was insanely slow every day,” she said. “I was just a little too sloppy on the first run. Nothing was as smooth as I would have liked. My start curve was a bit subpar and that causes a lot of time loss. Thankfully I managed to keep it together for the second. I have to be happy with a top 10 considering my mistakes.
”The three-time Olympic nominee and 2009 World Champion was followed by 21 year old Kate Hansen in 12th and 19 year old Summer Britcher, 16th. All three claimed one good run on the day and one not so much. This season marks Britcher’s first full time World Cup campaign. All three will represent USA Luge next month in Sochi.The top-ranked doubles sled of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall took 11th place. They, too, will be in Sochi for the Olympic Winter Games.
The German doubles team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, Oberhof locals, temporarily solved the riddle of teammates and World Cup tour leaders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. The gold medalists dominated their home course en route to a resounding victory in temperatures that pushed 40 degrees in this winter sports mecca.
Eggert and Benecken opened with a track record 41.509 seconds and finished with 41.703 seconds for a combined 1 minute, 23.212 seconds. Wendl and Arlt, in fact, needed to rally from third place after one leg to take the silver medal in 1:23.591. They overtook Russians Vladislav Yuzhakov and Vladimir Makhnutin, who lost their second place position in the right-left combination of curves 11 and 12. Yet Yuzhakov and Makhnutin claimed their first career World Cup medal – a bronze – in 1:23.609.Wendl and Arlt remain atop the overall World Cup standings after five gold medals and two silvers in seven starts. They have a total of 670 points. Eggert and Benecken are second with 545. Austria’s Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, fifth in the race, are third on the season with 414 points.
Niccum of Woodinville, Wash. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., clocked 1:24.183. They are 12th with 177 points in six events.Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y., and Griffall of Salt Lake City were timed in 1:24.272. They are 10th on the campaign with 212 points.Tatyana Huefner of Germany is gradually returning to her 2010 Olympic gold medal form after dealing with back issues since the fall. In the tightest of races, Huefner defeated World Cup overall leader, teammate and the dominant figure of the season, Natalie Geisenberger, by a slim 0.016 of a second. It ended Geisenberger’s six-race winning streak; she had also captured 12 of the previous 15 World Cup events.
Huefner had three World Cup silvers prior to this gold medal. The victor registered the best heat times of the day with 41.995 and 41.930 for an aggregate time of 1:23.925. Geisenberger’s silver medal came in 1:23.941. Dajana Eitberger, who is not going to Sochi, was next in 1:24.316, followed by fourth place Anke Wischnewski who will join Huefner and Geisenberger in Russia.
Geisenberger remains in the World Cup overall lead with 685 points and can clinch the title next weekend in Altenberg, Germany where she won a world championship two years ago.
Huefner is second with 491 points, while Canada’s Alex Gough, fifth Saturday, is third with 456.
Hamlin, 10th Saturday in 1:24.954, is the top-ranked U.S. athlete in sixth place with 305 points. Hansen is right behind in seventh overall at 264. The 2008 Junior World Champion from La Canada, Calif., stood eighth after one run before settling for 12th in 1:25.012.Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., was timed in 1:25.159. She is ranked 15th on the season with 189 World Cup points.
The final World Cup race of the weekend is set for Sunday morning when the men’s singles event is contested at 5:20 AM EST. Live timing and scoring will be provided on the FIL website.
Interviews with Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman