Above: Summer Britcher racing in Winterberg, German on Sunday, January 25.
WINTERBERG, Germany – Summer Britcher, a 2014 Olympian from Glen Rock, Pa., won Friday’s Nations Cup qualifier and then raced to a career best fourth place Sunday in a World Cup luge event held in the snowbound winter sports mecca of Winterberg, Germany.
“Before this week I wasn’t expecting it (this result),” remarked Britcher. “But looking at the training times the first few days I knew I had a chance to do really well here. I’m very happy with fourth.”
Britcher has an affinity for the difficult Winterberg track, which coupled with a sled adjustment at the beginning of the week, brought her to the brink of a World Cup medal. It was the 20 year old’s best finish since a sixth place in Lake Placid last month.
“I really enjoy Winterberg. It’s my favorite track,” said Britcher, who was chosen as the 2014 sports story of the year in her home York Daily Record newspaper in York County. Pa. “It was my favorite track as a junior and then it started getting a little bit boring. Then last year I moved up to ladies start and it was so much fun again. I hope it stays that way.”
She was less than 0.3 of a second from the podium, and 0.6 behind winner Natalie Geisenberger of Germany, who captured her sixth consecutive race. Geisenberger has seven wins in eight starts, including Sprint World Cups.
Later the American was part of the United States relay team that finished sixth, and saw its medal streak in the event end at three after a World Cup bronze and two silvers. The U.S., however, remains second in the season-long rankings behind Germany, which also won the team relay to complete a gold medal sweep of all four Winterberg events.
Britcher showed this week why Winterberg is her favorite track, while some others are running out of town to get away from it. As soon as official training started on Wednesday, the technical and speedy layout produced numerous rollovers and DNFs. There were no serious injuries.
Among the high profile victims were Vancouver Olympic champion and Sochi silver medalist Tatyana Huefner, who crashed in the labyrinth (curves 12-13) and did not finish the race.
Also, Erin Hamlin, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion from Remsen, N.Y., was headed to a top five or six placing, before crashing in the same section during the final leg. She finished 22nd.
Britcher threw down two consistent runs to place behind Geisenberger, silver medalist Dajana Eitberger who was exceptionally strong in training, and bronze medal winner Anke Wischnewski.
“I felt more comfortable on the sled,” added Britcher. “Something needed to change after last weekend. I had really good training and a decent race but I wasn’t happy with the result. I feel this weekend everything came together. The training and race runs were good and I had the equipment to back it up.”
The winner, who was also the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist and 2014 Olympic gold medal winner, posted run times of 56.879 and 56.950 seconds for a 1 minute, 53.829 second total.
She has 770 overall World Cup points to head the standings. Eitberger is a distant second with 526, followed by Huefner with 491. Hamlin is ranked fifth with 396 World Cup points.
In the race Eitberger was second in 1:54.024, and Wischnewski third in 1:54.171. Britcher clocked 1:54.450 and is now listed 12th on the World Cup season. Getting so close to her first career World Cup medal had her thinking about making that final jump into the top three.
“I could always improve my start,” she analyzed. It’s a part of her sliding that has gotten faster since last winter. “I could put on some more weight (helps in a gravity sport) and improve some small things down the track. My lines weren’t perfect, but you’re never going to have perfect lines. That’s the beauty and the curse of this sport. You’ll never be perfect, but there’s definitely room for improvement.”
Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. finished 10th in 1:55.080, and is ranked eighth on the season. Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine wound up 14th in 1:55.395 and sits in 15th place.
The team relay saw Britcher and Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn., yesterday’s World Cup bronze medalist, join the doubles team of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. The U.S. singles racers were members of the 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medal relay unit.
Germany won it with their weekend winners and Sochi Olympic gold medalists Geisenberger, Felix Loch and doubles athletes Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. They bested Austria by over 0.5 of a second, with Russia third.
The unbeaten Germans have 400 overall World Cup points. The U.S. second place total is 290, with Russia third at 250.
The World Cup circuit continues next weekend in Lillehammer, Norway as USA Luge seeks to extend its streak of five straight medal-winning weekends. Lillehammer will mark the final tour event prior to the World Championships in Sigulda, Latvia Feb. 14-15.
Audio interview with Summer Britcher:
Summer Britcher was all smiles after taking her best-ever result in Winterberg, Germany