PARK CITY, Utah – Just three weeks into the new Viessmann World Cup luge season, and the United States is starting to eye its single season record of 13 medals.
With gold medals by Chris Mazdzer and Summer Britcher, and a silver medal from Erin Hamlin, all on Saturday night in Park City, the American sliders are already up to 11 medals on the campaign. They had six medals last weekend in Lake Placid and two more last night at the Utah Olympic Park.
Mazdzer shrugged off a pain in the neck and became a burr in the side of his European competition as the two-time Olympian won a men’s luge race Saturday night for the second straight week.
The Saranac Lake, N.Y. slider strained his neck during a mid-week weight-lifting session. But he gradually overcame it, posted the fastest final training run at the Utah Olympic Park, and then carried the momentum into the competition for his second career singles gold medal.
“It was a huge relief to come down and see that big number one,” remarked Mazdzer. “A huge part is experience. We do have a home track advantage where we get more runs. So even though I had to skip two training runs because my neck hurt really bad, all that experience comes together on race day.”
Above: Summer Britcher and Erin Hamlin finish 1-2 in the Viessmann Sprint World Cup presented by BMW
Later in the night, Summer Britcher and Erin Hamlin repeated their Friday singles effort by taking gold and silver medals, respectively, in the BMW Sprint World Cup.
Hamlin has medaled in four consecutive starts, including the Lake Placid team relay, while Britcher has had a bronze and two gold medals in her last three events. It was the third time this season that U.S. lugers have placed 1-2 in a World Cup race.
Mazdzer’s two wins came in different fashion. In Lake Placid, he sat in the leader’s box after his second leg, awaiting the arrival of German leader Felix Loch. But the two-time Olympic champion and four-time World Champion hit a wall near the end of the second heat and surrendered victory to the American.
This week, however, Mazdzer raced to the first run advantage by just 0.02 of a second over Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl, and 0.04 in front of Loch. In the final heat, with lots of time to think about it and conditions changing somewhat under lightly falling snow in the Wasatch Mountains, Mazdzer grabbed the win.
The 27 year old was able to overcome a tap coming out of the second curve – a virtual crapshoot over the 18 years of this track’s existence – and then let the sled, courtesy of Mazdzer’s composure and the team’s evolving technology, run to the finish line.
That section got the better of both Mazdzer and his teammate Tucker West at the Norton National Championships in November, taking both out of the race. It victimized Mazdzer in the BMW Sprint World Cup as he came close to flipping his sled, yet stayed with it to post a 14th place result.
Mazdzer had the two best singles heats of the night, racing the 15 curve Olympic course in 45.479 and 45.481 seconds for a combined 1 minute, 30.960 seconds.
Kindl, 2008 Junior World Champion who would later close the Park City race series with a sprint gold medal, recorded 1:31.056, with Loch in third place in 1:31.087.
The victory enabled Mazdzer to retain the World Cup leader’s bib with 242 points, until Kindl, third in Lake Placid, wrestled it from him with his win in the sprint race.
The Austrian has 325 points, with Mazdzer next at 270. Dominik Fischnaller of Italy is on Mazdzer’s heels with 267.
West of Ridgefield, Conn. was ninth after taking a silver medal one week ago. He struggled coming down the start ramp in the initial run, and was later victimized by curve two.
The 2014 Olympian had a time of 1:31.853. Local racer Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah took 13th in 1:32.367, while Aidan Kelly of W. Islip, N.Y. finished tied for 14th in 1:32.374.
Britcher, this week, has found a friendly intra-squad rival in Hamlin. Their 1-2 singles finish Friday was matched by the identical result in the BMW Sprint World Cup. The single run flying start format has each discipline beginning from their traditional start location, but the timing does not begin for approximately 100 meters. So the importance of the start technique is minimized, allowing sleds to build momentum before starting the clock in Park City with a small pyrotechnic display.
Britcher, a 2014 Olympian from Glen Rock, Pa., handled all of that in 32.477. Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, was 0.03 of a second behind in 32.514.
“The run was okay. It wasn’t great,” stated Hamlin. “That kind of seems to be the trend from my race weekend. But I’ll take it. It was clean for the most part. So it feels awesome to maintain yesterday’s result.”
The victory also enabled Britcher to take possession of the Viessmann World Cup leader’s bib from Hamlin. Britcher has 325 points to Hamlin’s 316 as the circuit goes to Canada for its final event prior to the holiday break.
“I have less experience on the coming tracks,” said Britcher. “I feel great right now. But I need to not let it go to my head.
“I feel really good going forward. It’s definitely a confidence builder, an experience builder to be sitting in this position. But it would be kind of a naïve to expect this. This is one of our home tracks, and hopefully I can do well again.”
Above: Erin Hamlin and Dajana Eitberger take cover as Summer Britcher sprays the crowd with champagne
Dajana Eitberger and double Olympic medalist Natalie Geisenberger, both of Germany, were third and fourth, respectively. Eitberger was nearly 0.1 of a second from Britcher.
Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., was eighth, with Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. ninth.
Italian veterans Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber captured the BMW World Cup Sprint doubles race, with a time of 32. 521. That was only 0.01 of a second ahead of Germany’s 2014 Olympic gold medalists, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, also of Germany, were third, in 32.564. They stand atop the Viessmann World Cup doubles rankings with 355 points.
Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. took a career best fifth in 32.610, and are fifth in the tour standings.
“The sprint cup is always an exciting run,” remarked Terdiman, the team’s back driver. “Matt and I had a very solid run, just like yesterday in the race. We’re really stoked. Fifth place is a personal best for us, which is a huge confidence booster for us going into Calgary next week.”
“The format of the sprint race is that it takes the start out of the equation,” added Mortensen. “Jayson and I build a lot of speed going down the track and that’s kind of our forte. So we really like to do the sprint race. This particular race there was a little air puff going into (curve) six. I wasn’t watching the TV so that kind of scared the crap out of me a little bit. Aside from that we had a really good run today. I’m really excited to cap off this weekend.”
Justin Krewson of Eastport, N.Y. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa. were 12th in 32.859. Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Anthony Espinoza of Park City, Utah claimed 14th in 33.035.
The Viessmann World Cup tour moves north of the border for races on December 18-19 on the 1988 Olympic track in Calgary, Alberta.
The Park City series will be covered on Thursday night, December 17, on NBC Sports Network from 7-9 PM EST.