USA Luge women sweep podium and take gold in team relay

By Sandy Caligiore | Dec. 05, 2015, 11:46 p.m. (ET)


Above, left to right: Krewson, Sherk, Mazdzer and Hamlin

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.After watching the men’s team race to gold and silver medals yesterday, the USA Luge women’s team, led by winner Erin Hamlin, upped the ante Saturday in a Viessmann World Cup race by sweeping the podium at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

It was the second gold-silver-bronze sweep of a World Cup race, including three American doubles teams who turned the trick in December 1996 in Lillehammer, Norway.

The organization, still delirious over the achievements of Chris Mazdzer and Tucker West in men’s singles on Friday, watched proudly as Hamlin broke her own track record en route to her first women’s singles victory.

“This is the one thing I wanted to do before I retire, and on our home track,” said Hamlin. “It could not be any more perfect, to lead an American sweep. Now I know that when I retire in two years the team will be in good hands. It made it cool, because we are always back to back in team races all the time. This is what we always do.”

Hamlin, the Remsen, N.Y. veteran who won the 2009 World Championship here and later added the Sochi Olympic bronze medal, was joined by Emily Sweeney taking silver and Summer Britcher grabbing the bronze medal. For the latter two lugers, it was their first career World Cup medals.

Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., in just her second World Cup start, gave the large audience an inkling that this race could be something special by taking seventh place in the opening leg. She ultimately took seventh, placing ahead of double Olympic medalist Tatjana Huefner of Germany, and last week’s winner in Igls, Austria, Dajana Eitberger, also of Germany.

Two sleds after Germaine, Hamlin brought down the track record with a dash of 43.912 seconds. West, handling commentary on the live stream, afterward said his teammate’s run was “gorgeous.”

At the intermission, Hamlin stood first, followed by Sweeney in second place. German Natalie Geisenberger, the defending Olympic, World and World Cup champion, was third, with Britcher in fourth place.

When Britcher overtook Geisenberger in the final heat, the American throng started to sense history. Sweeney’s second run could have actually overtaken Hamlin, save a correction that was necessitated through the same Chicane (curves 15-16) that took down Felix Loch of Germany 24 hours earlier.

But over her career, if Hamlin, the greatest singles racer in USA Luge history, has proven anything, it’s the ability to deliver on the deciding run. Just 44.049 seconds after leaving the start handles, she made up significant time from the Chicane to the finish line and took down the field with two heats totaling 1 minute, 27.961 seconds.

Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn. had the silver medal winning time of 1:28.136.

“I came out of curve 14 and I wasn’t in an ideal spot,” she stated. “I was late going into 14. I was really nervous. But I did a good save. Coming into the finish I sat up right away. I just needed to see the time. I was nervous but it was enough.”

“We had joked about this earlier in the week,” stated Britcher, a Sochi Olympian from Glen Rock, Pa. “Honestly, we said it was possible. It happens. But no one was expecting it. At the start I heard it (on the PA system) but I was just trying to ignore it….I knew I had a lot to do.”

Britcher’s bronze medal time was 1:28.221. Germaine, who earned the fourth and final team position in the fall seeding races, finished about 0.5 seconds from Hamlin.

Now thoroughly overcome with joy, Hamlin, Mazdzer, and the doubles unit of Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk treated the onlookers to a weekend concluding gold medal in the Viessmann team relay presented by BMW.

That, too, was a U.S. Luge Team first in the discipline that officially entered the World Cup tour in 2010-2011.

The one mile course started to quicken with the temperatures dropping in the late afternoon. Russia, which sent the first trio of sleds down the shaded track, took advantage in Lake Placid record time.

That mark lasted for only four teams, however. USA Luge started in the middle of the field. The interesting dynamic in the team relay makes each sled unaware of what a teammate ahead of them is doing, other than the crowd noise.

“I was worried about getting strapped in and getting my face shield down,” added Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y. “I wasn’t listening or paying attention to anything else but that beep (that opens the gate).”

So Krewson and Sherk had no way of knowing that Hamlin was the fastest woman down the track, and Mazdzer, with his quick reaction and getaway when his gate opened, put his teammates in first place for the doubles run.

“Being able to have the fastest overall time yesterday was huge,” remarked Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian. “Coming in it’s on your home track. You’re moving down to a start you’re comfortable with. I knew that if I did my normal thing, not having to push myself to go above and beyond, it was going to be successful. I put zero pressure on myself to go 110 percent. I knew that 100 percent was good enough.”

The young doubles team, at 19 and 23 years of age, respectively, matched Mazdzer’s effort out of the gate to anchor the victory in a record time of 2:32.767.

“That feels fantastic and couldn’t have been a better run,” said Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa. “It was our best run of the week and we couldn’t be more stoked. This is a huge confidence booster. After last week, we were super bummed, kind of messing up in that relay. It’s great coming back with this.”

Latvia was a distant second in 2:33.638, followed by Russia in 2:33.695. Germany, which was shutout of the medals in three of the four Lake Placid races, was in podium contention until Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, winners on Friday, encountered a litany of difficulties in the doubles run. They fell back to seventh place.

Their struggles notwithstanding, the Germans displayed a level of sportsmanship in congratulating the American team on their historic six medal weekend. After the women’s sweep, Geisenberger wanted a photo with the celebratory U.S. women. And Georg Hackl, the three-time Olympic gold medalist who is now on Germany’s coaching staff, was equally gracious in shaking hands with all three.

The U.S. weekend success story – termed a “sweepend” by one Facebook fan – can be added to a glut of medal-winning efforts by area athletes over the past few days. The achievements of the American lugers, together with their brethren in skiing and bobsledding, will hopefully help North Country economic leaders score $500 million in surplus state money.

Above: The athletes of USA Luge celebrate an historic weekend 

If realized, a portion of that funding would land in Lake Placid to address the Olympic venues and other world class training needs. A verdict will be rendered on Thursday.

In advance of that, the U.S. lugers and the World Cup tour now move from one Olympic site to another as the Utah Olympic Park in Park City will host the third weekend of racing December 11-12.

Like Mazdzer on Friday, Hamlin will now carry the World Cup leader’s bib on the flight to the Wasatch Mountains. And another first – never before has USA Luge simultaneously held two World Cup leader’s bibs.

Considering that USA Luge athletes and fans will not soon tire of reliving the team’s noteworthy efforts, NBC Sports Network will air the action from Lake Placid on Thursday, December 10, from 7-9 PM ET. 

RESULTS