WINTERBERG, Germany – Sochi Olympian Tucker West, the youngest competitor in the field, overcame pounding snowfall in the first heat and staged a final run rally to take a World Cup luge bronze medal Saturday in Winterberg, Germany.
(Tucker West en route to a World Cup bronze medal Saturday in Winterberg, Germany)
It was West’s fourth World Cup medal of the campaign.
“To take third place was a real success after the terrible training I had,” said the 19 year old from Ridgefield, Conn. He crashed twice in the six official training runs prior to the race.
The medal gave USA Luge a total of 12 for the 2014-2015 World Cup season. The team is within one medal of its single season high of 13 set in 1996-1997.
Germany’s two-time Olympic champion Felix Loch drove his way through the conditions and survived a near crash in the final leg to win his fifth race of the season. He had the two fastest individual heats of 52.559 and 52.802 seconds for a total of 1 minute, 45.361 seconds.
Stepan Federov of Russia had his first career podium result, finishing with the silver medal in 1:45.433, followed by West in 1:45.718, merely 0.002 of a second ahead of Kevin Fischnaller of Italy.
As the men’s singles race began, a grosser schneesturm (big snow storm) descended upon the Hochsauerland region that brought the timing of track sweeps into play.
(Chris Mazdzer slides to a 10th place finish Saturday in Winterberg)
West’s teammate and two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., holding six World Cup medals this winter, was victimized in the first run. He had a fast start time before hitting the snowfall. West, meanwhile, survived the conditions of the heat.
“The first run was actually a pretty good run. I was happy with it,” said the 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist. “There were no mistakes in it. Maybe it was the track or maybe there were some minor mistakes I didn’t notice. I tried to move forward and have a clean second run. Fortunately it was fast enough.”
The Winterberg layout is among the fastest on the World Cup circuit, where sledders have exceeded 90 miles per hour in optimal conditions through the speed trap near the end of the course. Top speeds Saturday were approximately 84 miles per hour, the difference most likely due to the accumulating snowfall.
Its design is mostly technical on top, starting with a 270 degree Omega curve and other crucial corners, before opening into a German autobahn in the bottom section.
“I don’t like this kind of sliding style,” continued West. “I hate it when it’s so technical on top and gliding down below. I’d rather it be the other way around. But you always have to be on top of your game. As for the technical side on top, you can lose speed in any corner. And if you lose speed on top it’ll kill your race.
“The (curve) 12-13 transition was tough for a lot of athletes, including me. I crashed there in training twice in a row. But luckily I was able to do it well on race day.”
In the first heat Loch was followed by newcomers to the top three, namely Federov and Fischnaller of Italy. West tied for eighth at that point, with Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. 12th despite excellent start times for both Americans before being slowed by the weather.
Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., who competed with West and Mazdzer in Sochi, was held out of the race due to recent injuries to a hand and big toe.
Loch has a World Cup-leading total of 663 points, followed by fellow German Andi Langhan, 16th Saturday, with 433 points. Mazdzer is a very close third with 429 points. West is sixth with 345, despite missing last week’s race in Oberhof due to his participation at the Junior World Championships where he scored a silver medal.
Before the snowfall, the American doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman placed 11th, one second off the winning time set by Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken.
(Mortensen and Terdiman end a race run Saturday in Winterberg to a welcoming from U.S. fans)
Mortensen and Terdiman will get another chance in Winterberg with Sunday’s running of the team relay, an event that has seen the United States medal in all three previous races to put them in second place in the World Cup standings.
The doubles pendulum swung back to Eggert and Benecken who defeated teammates and 2014 Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt by 0.1 of a second. The Latvian brothers, Andris and Juris Sics, Olympic bronze medalists in 2010 and 2014, finished third.
The winners dominated the season early, surrendered that domination to Wendl and Arlt, before grabbing it again on Saturday. Eggert and Benecken had the two best heat times – they may have drawn inspiration from last week’s loss on their home track to their compatriots - and were clocked in 1:27.013.
The silver medal team, citing an error at the start of the second heat as the difference, turned in a time of 1:27.121. The Latvians were next in 1:27.523.
Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. recorded 1:28.092. They are seventh on the season with 325 overall World Cup points.
The season-long World Cup standings mirror this race result, with Eggert and Benecken in the lead with 755 points, followed by Wendl and Arlt with 685 and Team Sics with 469.
The Winterberg schedule will end Sunday with women’s singles beginning at 4:30 AM Eastern Time, followed by the fourth team relay of the year. USA Luge has two silver medals and one bronze in the previous three events.
After turning in the best U.S. single heat time Saturday, West will join Mortensen and Terdiman in the team relay. The women’s singles race (the best individual heat time) will determine the final member of the relay unit.
World Cup #6 Full Results:
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(West was bigger than life itself in Winterberg)