OBERHOF, Germany – Two-time Olympic nominee Chris Mazdzer of the United States fought through the effects of an ankle injury to post an 18th place finish Sunday in a men’s World Cup luge race in Oberhof.
Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., rolled his ankle recently while playing soccer and competed with the injury taped inside his boot. He finished 1.2 seconds behind German winner Felix Loch, who led a medal sweep by the home nation. The result matched Saturday’s women’s performance. The squad, which is heavily favored to dominate the medals next month at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, also collected gold and silver in the doubles event held 24 hours earlier.
Mazdzer’s fellow Olympic nominees Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn., took 19th place, with Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., 29th on a technically demanding track that has not treated the U.S. kindly in recent history.
USA Luge Sport Program Director Mark Grimmette reported that weather conditions turned a bit colder, leading to a track that was faster than training.
Mazdzer’s Sochi teammates are inexperienced on many of the World Cup tracks. West, a 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist, is just 18 years of age. He is the youngest male to qualify for the Games in USA Luge Olympic history.Kelly is 19 and was ranked fifth among U.S. men entering the November and December World Cups. After climbing several spots he secured his nomination. Both are technically still juniors and, along with Summer Britcher, will race in the Junior World Championships on Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Igls, Austria.
Loch, the defending Olympic and World Champion, set a second heat track record and cruised to a nearly 0.2 of a second victory over Andi Langenhan, whose silver medal punched his ticket to Sochi at the expense of Johannes Ludwig. Langenhan will join Loch and four-time World Champion and 2010 Olympic silver medalist David Moeller in the Sochi men’s singles race.Loch’s times of 43.510 and 43.447 seconds totaled 1 minute, 26.957 seconds. Langenhan clocked 1:27.152, with Julien von Schleinitz, a former Junior World Champion, third in 1:27.523.
The Oberhof course, long known for its’ challenge and difficulty, claimed some high profile competitors, none moreso than Italian Armin Zoeggeler. The five-time Olympic medalist and World Cup winner last month in Park City, Utah who will carry Italy’s flag in Sochi, semi-crashed in the opening leg, and concluded the run near the bottom of the rankings.
Zoeggeler ultimately finished 22nd. His young compatriot Dominick Fischnaller, the opening day winner in Lillehammer, was victimized midway through the run and placed 10th.
Moeller stood fourth at the mid-point, only to struggle in the same section and wound up fifth.
With four World Cup gold medals in seven starts, Loch has 585 points and leads the overall tour standings. He could clinch the championship in a week’s time. But there is a real chase for second place. Currently, Moeller is in that position with 455 World Cup points, followed closely by Fischnaller with 451 and Zoeggeler at 440.
Mazdzer, the highest ranked American in the World Cup on the strength of two silver medals, is fifth with 327. West is 16th at 161, while Kelly has 107 points for 26th place.
As the tour of Germany continues in Altenberg with next weekend’s four-event World Cup program, a race within the race is taking shape. Athletes will strive to arrive in Sochi with first seed status in all three disciplines, respectively – men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles.
Given the erratic weather in Krasnaya Polyana, site of the Sanki Sliding Center, early start numbers will have a better sliding surface if conditions are warm. Positions in the first seed will get that advantage as the track could deteriorate later in the race. The seeds are based on the three most recent events prior to the Olympics - Oberhof, Altenberg, and the World Cup finals in Sigulda, Latvia.
Those currently in the seeded groups are trying to remain there; those on the outside seek to race their way in.
On the U.S. team currently singles racers West, Kelly and Britcher, along with the doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman will be gunning for inclusion among the seeded sleds.
The next chapter of that battle within the World Cup will be played out next weekend.