Above: Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher discuss their runs down the Sanki Sliding Center.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The season of surprise finishes and home ice advantages continued Saturday in a pair of World Cup luge races at Sochi’s former Olympic venue.
Erin Hamlin, who captured the 2014 Olympic bronze medal here at the Sanki Sliding Center, lead the American effort in fourth place, missing the podium by merely 0.03 of a second.
“Small mistakes at the start and out of (curve) 15 in the first run cost me the podium for sure,” said Hamlin. “The second run was pretty solid, though. I can't complain. I was further back at the start than I would have liked. I usually manage to get a bit faster on race day but never felt super comfortable with them today.
“Overall, I’m happy with it but I was painfully close to a medal. It’s always a bummer when you know where that time went. Now I’m looking forward to the relay tomorrow, knowing how much speed we can potentially have here as a team.”
Above: Mortensen and Terdiman 'painfully close' to winning their first-ever World Cup medal in Sochi.
The doubles unit of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, in just their second season together, have been inching to their first World Cup podium. Showing acceleration down the long Olympic track, the twosome raced to a slim first heat lead ahead of Italy’s Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber.
But the end of the final leg, however, grabbed Olympians Mortensen and Terdiman as they crashed with the podium in sight. They joined many sleds, in the two races, that fell victim to a track that has always been analyzed as easy to slide but difficult to be fast.
“This track plays to our strength,” said Mortensen afterward. “It’s a long track with a steep start ramp so a lot of the start is taken out of the picture, and Jayson and I can build some speed. We’ve seen that in the sprint contests. So really, all the factors for Jayson and I sliding fast are here.”
In the end they settled for ninth place coming across the finish line with the sled on its side. The mishap enabled the surprised German Olympic and World Champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt to advance from third place and take their 35th World Cup win, tops on the all-time list.
The trip to Sochi marked Hamlin’s return to the site of her crowning achievement, albeit in much colder conditions than the spring-like weather that greeted the world here two years ago.
Her Olympic teammate, Summer Britcher, 15th then, was eighth Saturday. Now the two United States sliders are in the top three with Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., second and Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., third, separated by just three points. Second through fifth places in the overall women’s World Cup ranking are separated by 15 points with only two events remaining.
Speaking of surprises and home ice advantage, Russia placed 1-2-5 with Tatiana Ivanova winning gold ahead of teammate Victoria Demchenko who medaled for the first time in her career. Natalie Geisenberger salvaged the race for Germany with a bronze medal and now has a World Cup overall lead of more than 100 points.
Dajana Eitberger, also of Germany, was angling for another podium finish, but encountered problems early in the final heat, prior to the track’s first uphill section, and wound up well down the list.
Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn., a silver medal winner in Lake Placid two months ago, like Eitberger overturned shortly after starting her runs. The two athletes were able to get back on their sleds and conclude the race for World Cup points.
Ivanova has now won twice on the World Cup tour in 2016, with a World Championship bronze medal in between. Her two runs of 50.534 and 50.489 seconds totaled 1 minute, 41.023 seconds.
Teammate Victoria Demchenko, daughter of Russian coach Albert Demchenko who won three Olympic silver medals including one at this venue two years ago, grabbed her first career medal. Demchenko took silver in 1:41.152.
Geisenberger was next in 1:41.213, followed by Hamlin in 1:41.249. Britcher, with three World Cup wins this season to date, had some of the fastest starts in the field and was 0.7 from Ivanova.
Geisenberger has 750 World Cup points. Britcher is next with 645, followed by Hamlin at 642.
Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y, and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. mastered the course in the opening leg, sliding as if being chased. With the 11th best start, they posted a heat-leading time of 50.294, gaining speed at each interval. In fact, from the final split time to the finish, the U.S. sled made up 0.358 of a second on Wendl and Arlt in a span of 10 seconds.
With a faster second start, the Americans were also picking up the pace and gaining fractions with the podium now in sight. But an error in that final section of the course took them out of the running.
“I don’t think we’ll get an opportunity like that ever again,” remarked Mortensen. “It was gift wrapped. It’s hard to say exactly what happened. We got a little too much height in curve 16 and came out early in the entrance to curve 17. It’s (curve profile) pretty square right now. We tapped that wall a little bit. We were too early into the curve and it just put us over.”
Wendl and Arlt have won the last 6 doubles events – five World Cups and a world title – and enjoyed a half-second margin of victory over Russians Andrey Bogdanov and Andrey Medvedev. The winners clocked runs of 50.376 and 49.992 for a cumulative 1:40.368. The runners-up recorded 1:40.889, followed by Oberstolz and Gruber in 1:40.992.
The Americans totaled 1:42.257 and sat on the track wall in disbelief upon concluding the race. They continue to hold on to fifth place in the overall World Cup doubles list with 468 points. Wendl and Arlt top the field with 867, followed by fellow countrymen Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken with 762. The latter German team, victimized by the track in the first heat, fell to 12th in the race.
Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, third in the season-long chase with 715 World Cup points, took sixth.
Three-time Olympic medalists, brothers Andris and Juris Sics of Latvia, were 13th on the day. Two of their three Olympic medals occurred at the Sanki Sliding Center.
World Cup racing in Sochi concludes Sunday at 1:45 AM ET with men’s singles followed by the team relay. The live stream will be available via www.fil-luge.org.
NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the 2016 World Championships will be seen Thursday night from 6:30 – 8:30 ET. Check your local listings.
Matt Mortensen interview