Above: Emily Sweeney crosses the finish in Koenigssee, Germany after finishing fourth.
KOENIGSSEE, Germany – Emily Sweeney continued her march in World Cup luge by sliding to a career-best fourth place finish Saturday in this snowy, picturesque Bavarian resort in the south of Germany.
Koenigssee celebrates the traditional 12 days of Christmas with a yearly stop on the international luge tour. On the 11th day, Sweeney, the 2013 Junior World Champion from Suffield, Conn. nearly hopped on the podium in front of a large holiday audience.
“My training this week was about 50-50,” said the 21 year old Sweeney. “Each day I’d have a good run and a dud of a run. I didn’t have two clean runs consecutively until today. But I’ve done this before and needed to do what I know how to. I wasn’t trying to do anything crazy or get extra time. I was just trying to have two solid runs.”
She finished 0.08 of a second from the podium. Sweeney has improved all season, starting with a seventh in Igls, Austria, followed by a fifth place effort in Lake Placid.
Natalie Geisenberger of Germany, the Olympic gold and bronze medalist, won the 28th race of her career. This one came on her home track and marked her fifth victory of the season. Geisenberger was 0.35 of a second ahead of runner-up Alex Gough of Canada. Third place went to Dajana Eitberger, also of Germany.
The home team also dominated the doubles race as 2014 Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt came from behind to overcome teammates and World Cup overall leaders Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. It was the seventh straight win on Koenigssee ice for Wendl and Arlt, who also hail from the region, and their 25th overall. Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler took bronze.
The USA tandem of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. were eighth, over a second off the pace.
The American squad entered the Koenigssee World Cup weekend after a two week holiday break and just five official training runs this week instead of the usual six. The number of practice runs was curtailed due to a snowstorm earlier in the week that hit the previously dry Alps.
“I know I was at a disadvantage with the lack of training, but it makes it even better when you do well,” continued Sweeney, who had not raced on this classic and difficult layout in more than year. “That’s what I was going for. We had to rely on our instincts. We know how to slide and you have to show up. So today I tried to show up.”
Also, the change in her off-season training continues to pay dividends for the luge racer who was in the Olympic mix in both 2010 and 2014, only to be eliminated on both occasions. In a special race off for the Vancouver squad, her sister Megan grabbed the final Olympic berth.
The Geisenberger runaway for yet another World Cup overall crown is underway. She clocked runs of 50.723 and 50.688 seconds for a combined 1 minute, 41.411 seconds.
Five wins in six starts, including Sprint Cups, gives her 570 points. Another German, Olympic gold and silver medalist Tatyana Huefner, fifth in this race, is second at 390. Eitberger is third with 371 points.
Gough, who spent most of the fall campaign concentrating on her studies before returning to the podium twice in Calgary, recorded the silver medal time of 1:41.760. She has two World Cup silver medals and a Sprint Cup gold since her return. Eitberger was timed in 1:41.871.
Sweeney registered 1:41.960 on the strength of the fourth best heat times of each run. Her starts were in the top 10 of both attempts and she gained time from there to the finish.
“You have to get the rhythm of the “S” turns (turns shaped like the letter S),” she stated. “If you’re behind it’s difficult to get back on line. Coming out of S 4, there’s a long straightaway that’s not very straight. If you’re off it’s painful because it’s really hard to get it back. But if you come out of there straight, good for you.”
As the top American she will get her first World Cup start in a team relay Sunday afternoon.
Sochi Olympian Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa. was 12th in 1:43.118. Olympic bronze medalist Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y. was 14th in 1:43.320. Vancouver Olympian Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine, placed 24th in 1:46.523.
On the campaign, Hamlin is fifth in points (341), Sweeney seventh (255), Britcher 13th (160) and Clukey 17th (137).
Wendl and Arlt had been stymied by Eggert and Benecken over the first three races of the season, and that pattern continued in Saturday’s opening leg. But problems in the track’s lower sections, which feature quick serpentine turns as well as long-radius arcs, relegated Eggert and Benecken to second place.
The winners recorded a combined time of 1:40.810. Eggert and Benecken were 0.18 of a second in arrears with the Austrians another 0.04 off the pace.
A similar scenario occurred between third and fourth places, as double Olympic bronze medalists Andris and Juris Sics, of Latvia, struggled in the final heat and surrendered the bronze medal to Penz and Fischler.
Mortensen and Terdiman showed speed from start to finish as they gained places in each of the two runs. But the time difference at the start was too much to overcome. They totaled 1:41.927.
Eggert and Benecken stand atop the overall rankings with 570 World Cup points. Wendl and Arlt have 500, with the Sics brothers third at 344.
Mortensen and Terdiman are ranked seventh with 252 points.
The race program in Koenigssee concludes with Sunday’s men’s singles and the team relay, starting at 5:08 AM Eastern Time.
Follow all the action with live timing and scoring at www.fil-luge.org.
Listen to post race interview here: <script src="http://player.ooyala.com/player.js?embedCode=k3ZGNvcjomaus3w3ISfBika5Qia_auTk&height=0&videoPcode=ZyeDkyOuP3b88vVNQxYTSyYepYvi&width=0"></script>