LILLEHAMMER, Norway – American Olympians Chris Mazdzer and Tucker West were integral players in a men’s World Cup singles luge race Sunday morning that saw them finish fourth and fifth, respectively, on the 1994 Olympic track in Lillehammer.
The event produced a first time World Cup winner in Wolfgang Kindl of Austria, a first time medalist with Russian Semen Pavlichenko taking silver and no Germans in sight.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Champion Felix Loch, the current World Cup leader, led Germany in eighth place.
“All those athletes (top five today) have had training in Lillehammer,” stated Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. “This year we came to Lillehammer (in October) to train and get good ice. We have training at these tracks. Germany was supposed to come here but didn’t. In that regard it’s all about spending adequate time in the pre-season getting prepared for these races. That makes a huge difference. It comes down to having more runs here and being more comfortable with the track. That’s a game-changer.”
On a track that gives racers fits negotiating their way through curve 13, Mazdzer and West took it head on without problems.
“My curve 13 this week was really good,” said Mazdzer. “I’ve had no issue with it. No matter how I get in, I can get out of there. Today it was different parts of the track that hindered me from getting a medal. The ice was a lot harder and faster than what I experienced (due to weather change). So that’s always a curveball thrown at you in a game-time situation. I felt like I handled that pretty well, but if I had cleaned up my runs I definitely would have had a shot at a medal.”
For West, this was a noticeable improvement after losing a World Junior Championship gold medal in that turn two weeks ago when he hit the wall in both heats. In fact, he repeated those problems during training this week, until receiving some last minute strategy.
“All throughout training I was hitting out of (curve) 13 almost every run,” said the 19 year old from Ridgefield, Conn. “So I thought it was going to be another race like junior worlds. But at the last minute our coaches gave me some new driving lines to try out in curve 13 and in a last minute attempt it luckily worked out.”
As West solved one riddle another emerged, and it came in the most unlikeliest places. The Union College student is one of the tour’s fastest starters, yet his race began uncharacteristically slow.
“I’m not really sure what happened at the start,” continued West. “It was really windy today. Our coaches said there was a big gust of wind as I pulled off. Whether that slowed me down or not, I’m not sure. But it was pretty slow for me and I was disappointed with it. But from there I had a pretty solid run and made up the time I lost on top.”
Kindl, the 2008 World Junior Champion in Lake Placid, has been on the rise since last season when he medaled in Park City, Utah. He did the same this year in Lake Placid, N.Y. In between he finished ninth at the Sochi Winter Games.
Kindl had the two fastest runs of the day – 49.380 and 49.438 seconds – totaling 1 minute, 38.818 seconds. It was the first Austrian win since Markus Kleinheinz achieved a World Cup gold medal in 2002. The compact Austrian later credited his sled technicians for playing a role in this victory.
Pavlichenko’s silver medal time was 1:38.872, included a second heat that hurtled him over Dominik Fischnaller of Italy for second place. The timely achievement came just three days after the birth of Pavlichenko’s son. Pavlichenko, the fifth place racer at the 2014 Winter Olympics, dedicated the medal to his newborn.
Fischnaller, sixth last February in Sochi, won this World Cup race last season. He settled for the bronze medal in 1:38.964. Mazdzer, a 2010 and 2014 Olympian, clocked 1:39.119, followed by West, a member of the 2014 Olympic team, in 1:39.223.
Loch has won four World Cup events and a Sprint World Cup this season, and leads the overall standings with 705 points. Fischnaller has 492, but Mazdzer chasing with 489, despite missing the Igls, Austria Sprint World Cup. West is sixth at 400 World Cup points with two less scoring chances when he, too, did not qualify for the Igls Sprint World Cup and missed a World Cup to participate in the World Junior Championships.
The afternoon event saw USA Luge take fifth place in the team relay and ended the team’s streak of five consecutive weekends with at least one World Cup medal. The season total is 12 with two tour events remaining on the winter. One more medal will equal the organization’s single season best set in 1996-1997.
Germany also clinched the World Cup team relay division with their fifth straight win. They have a maximum 500 points with just one race remaining. The United States is next at 355 with the fast approaching Russians in third with 345 points.
The U.S. relay unit, occupying second place in the World Cup standings all year, was comprised of Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y. and Mazdzer in singles, with the doubles sled of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa.
The luge elite will now journey to the Baltic for the 2015 World Championships Feb. 14-15 in Sigulda, Latvia. International Training Week begins Tuesday, Feb. 3, with official training taking place the week of Feb. 10.