Nov. 29, 2015, 10:36 a.m. (ET)
Above: Tucker West audio interview
IGLS, Austria – The United States Luge Team had three more top 10 results Sunday in Igls as the opening weekend of the 2015-2016 World Cup season came to a close. In all, the team had seven in the top 10 over the four races at the two-time Winter Olympic site.
Its’ best effort of the day came in the team relay, where the U.S. finished sixth, blending experience in Erin Hamlin with the youth of Tucker West, 20, and the new doubles team of Justin Krewson, 19, and Andrew Sherk, just 23 years of age.
“We went into the relay knowing that two of the sleds didn’t have very much experience with the relay,” said West, of Ridgefield, Conn. “As with any relay, we went into it hoping to have fun and get more experience. Overall, I think we did well. Erin had a great run. I had a few hits in the lower labyrinth, and the doubles team had a hiccup in the lower labyrinth as well.
“We may not have found our way to the podium today, but I think we got valuable experience for the races going forward, and I think we can be a team to be reckoned with in the coming team relays.”
The unit finished almost a second behind the gold medal winners from Germany, with Latvia second and Italy third. The Germans featured Dajana Eitberger, Andi Langenhan and the doubles team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. Eitberger as well as Eggert and Benecken, took gold in their respective disciplines on Saturday.
Germany won its 25th relay event since it came into existence, despite the absence of Felix Loch, the 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion. Loch was disqualified in the morning race, which provided the men’s singles athletes for the team relay.
Two of the USA’s three men sliders in singles landed in the top 10, with West seventh, despite a bobble as he paddled down the start ramp in the first leg. Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., tied for eighth. Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y., was 23rd, less than a second off the pace of race winner Dominick Fischnaller of Italy.
“I didn’t know what to expect seeing as it was the first race of the year,” said West, a student at Union College. “But I think it turned out well. The first run I had a little hiccup on the start. My paddles didn’t quite land in the ice the way I wanted them to. I also hit a little bump onto curve 12. Other than that the run was pretty good.
“The second run was much better. The speed wasn’t quite as good as the first run, but overall it was two consistent runs. So anytime I can have that, I’m super happy. Chris and I were very close together so it looked like we had good speed and hopefully it’ll continue like that for the season.”
Igls oftentimes provides a tight leaderboard and today did not disappoint.
“What was crazy about today’s race was how close it was," added Mazdzer. "I finished tied for eighth, only .18 behind Dominik. Tucker also beat my fastest run by only .010 to make it to the team competition. I had a little bit of time in each of my runs but overall I thought I performed well. I can’t remember the last time you could finish less than 0.2 behind the leader and be tied in eighth place. Igls was a close race this year and it will take some small improvements to make it to the podium, I am sure.”
Proving that nothing is more uncertain than a sure thing, Loch led the first run and then he didn’t.
After the heat, the Igls track record holder was disqualified for having an overweight sled, an advantage in a gravity sport. Loch was randomly selected by a machine for equipment testing.
His elimination opened the door for the home teams, in this case Austria and Italy. With the 2006 Olympic track in Cesana, Italy out of commission, the Italians have no course to call their own. But much of the team is from the South Tyrol, close to Igls, making this home.
Fischnaller, from nearby Brixen, is a wunderkind in this sport who learned under the tutelage of the retired luge icon Armin Zoeggeler, a winner of six Olympic medals.
With the disqualification, the 22 year old Fischnaller was elevated from second place to first heat leader, and then hung on to defeat the surprising Armin Frauscher of Austria by merely 0.006 of a second over the two runs.
Fischnaller’s runs of 50.263 and 50.424 seconds totaled 1 minute, 40.687 seconds, giving him his second career World Cup victory. Frauscher clocked in at 1:40.693. His teammate, the diminutive but rising athlete, Wolfgang Kindl who claimed a bronze medal in the 2015 World Championships, was third in 1:40.719.
West, a member of the Sochi Olympic team, was timed in 1:40.847. Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian who finished fifth in last year’s World Cup standings, posted 1:40.867, along with Russia’s defending World Champion Semen Pavlichenko. Kelly, another Sochi Olympian, was timed in 1:41.671.
Germany’s winning time in the concluding team relay was 2:09.035, followed by Latvia in 2:09.428 and Italy third in 2:09.799. The USA’s time was 2:09.987.
Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., West and Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y., and Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa. advanced to the team relay as they had the single fastest runs on the team, respectively.
The World Cup tour now jets to North America for three events: Lake Placid December 4-5, Park City December 11-12, Calgary December 18-19.
USA Luge training in Lake Placid is scheduled for Tuesday 4-6 PM, Wednesday 11:30-2 PM and Thursday 8-9:30 AM with seeded group training at 4 PM. This will be followed by the one heat Nations Cup qualifying race for non-seeded athletes beginning at 6 PM.
World Cup racing takes place Friday starting at 9:30 AM with doubles and men’s singles. A large audience of local school children will be heard at Mount Van Hoevenberg, taking in the first day action. Saturday’s events start at 10:40 AM with women’s singles, followed by the team relay.
Above: Chris Mazdzer in action on Nov. 29 in Igls, Austria during the men's competition
Above: Aidan Kelly in the outrun during the Igls, Austria World Cup. 11/29/15
Above, left to right: Tucker West, Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk get ready for the team relay event. 11/29/15