WINTERBERG, Germany – With temperatures rising and snow changing to rain Saturday morning in Winterberg, Sochi Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin led the United States with a fifth place finish in the final women’s World Cup luge event of the season.
The Remsen, N.Y. athlete missed the podium by just 0.06 of a second and third place in the overall Viessmann World Cup standings by the same margin. She and Summer Britcher, third and fourth, respectively, entering the race, were trying to join Cameron Myler. The 1994 United States Olympic flagbearer is the only American woman to claim a top three final standing. Myler did it twice in her career.
USA Luge has established a team record 17 World Cup medals this season with more day of racing on the calendar.
“My first run was really good,” Hamlin said. “It was probably my best run all week. The second run was pretty good as well. It just didn’t feel as smooth as my first, but overall, they were pretty solid.” It was a day of adjustment as weather and ice conditions changed from the training days to Saturday.
Britcher, a Sochi Olympian, had the second fastest final heat to improve from 16th to eighth, while Emily Sweeney, a World Cup silver medalist in December, took ninth.
“I messed up my first run pretty bad,” stated Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa. “I had a big skid in curve nine and got caught in some snow on the start which slowed me down a lot. Sitting so far back in 16th place, I really knew I had no shot, which might sound kind of bad, but took a lot of pressure off. I knew it was my last regular race run of the season and I really wanted to end on a good one.”
Later in the day, 2014 Olympians Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman raced into 11th place and hung on to fifth in the final doubles rankings by two points in just their second year together. A year ago they were seventh overall.
“We had pretty good training here,” said Sochi Olympian Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. “We trained really fast. The weather was great all week long, and then today it’s Winterberg, also known as rain-berg, also known as if-it-can-rain-it-will-rain-berg. So unfortunately we had a really bad draw for the race…..all we could do was have two good runs and that’s what we went out there and did today. We hoped it would be good enough to hold on to our fifth place overall, and by the skin of our teeth it worked. Luck was in our favor today, finally.”
Germany dominated with gold and silver medals in both events, as Tatiana Huefner and Natalie Geisenberger placed 1-2, as did the doubles teams of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
The latter doubles unit merely had to get their sled down the track to win the overall World Cup title as they led by 92 points when the day started. Their compatriots set a track record in winning the competition and claimed second place on the season.
As the doubles crown was essentially fait accompli, it was anything but in the women’s scenario as only 35 points separated second and sixth places when the day started. The potential for volatility among five women was palpable, involving Hamlin and Britcher, as well as Huefner, Russian Tatjana Ivanova and Germany’s Dajana Eitberger.
Hamlin entered the World Cup final in third place, but feeling cramped.
“It (fourth place) would be a lot less painful if it wasn’t as close. Huefner was barely behind me and Ivanova was barely ahead of me. In a nutshell, I missed out on third place overall by 0.06 of a second, which is never easy to get over.”
Both opponents edged past the Americans, with Hamlin winding up fourth and Britcher, in just her third World Cup season, fifth. Each held the World Cup leader’s bib in December. Britcher finished the season tied with Huefner for the most wins with three.
“I obviously wanted to improve but I try to put as little pressure on myself as possible,” remarked Britcher. “I try to be realistic. I wanted to finish in the top three overall but I knew going into the race that the other sliders going after those spots were faster than me in training. So I knew it would be quite a challenge to get up there. I’m actually very happy with fifth place overall.”
Huefner entered the season after Achilles surgery, and caught her stride in the final month with three gold medals, one silver and two bronze in the last six starts. She clocked 56.734 for the midway lead and then added a third fastest heat time of 56.275 for a combined 1 minute, 53.009 seconds.
Geisenberger, third after one leg, used a track record 56.175 toward a 1:53.138 total. Ivanova claimed two gold and two bronze since January. She registered 1:53.368.
Hamlin clocked 1:53.435, while Britcher’s rally out of 16th place brought her up to eighth in 1:53.798. Sweeney recorded 1:53.819. A mistake near the end of her first heat, prior to the uphill finish curve, may have prevented the Suffield, Conn. resident from sitting in the top three at that stage.
Geisenberger clinched the season-long chase last week in Altenberg, and totaled 895 World Cup points. Ivanova landed in second with 771, followed by Huefner’s 769. Hamlin totaled 747, with Britcher at 726 points. Sweeney ended with 537 points for a career-best eighth place. Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., was 19th with 183 points in a truncated season.
Eggert and Benecken had run times of 43.158 and 43.315 for a relatively short winning total of 1:26.473. Wendl and Arlt followed in 1:26.863, with Oskars Gudramovics and Peteris Kalnins, of Latvia, in third place after usurping two sleds in the final run. Their aggregate time of 1:27.055 gave the rising Latvians their second medal on tour this season.
Mortensen-Terdiman finished in 1:27.424, satisfying Terdiman’s pre-season goal.
“I really thought we set the bar high last year finishing seventh overall in our first year together,” said the back driver from Berwick, Pa. “It had me a little worried going into this season thinking how we’d be able to react if we weren’t able to match that. But topping it is great.”
The U.S. sled piled up 532 points, with top World Cup results of fourth, fifth and a pair of sixth places.
“I had a personal goal this year of wanting to be top five overall and I’d like to improve on that again next year,” continued Terdiman. “Being a young team together, the guys in front of us are all World Cup medalists and Olympic medalists, and the guys behind us are Olympic medalists.
“Matt and I were talking earlier – we’re the black sheep in there, and it’s only a matter of time before we start getting our medal count going.”
Wendl and Arlt completed the campaign with six victories and 1,037 points, while Eggert and Benecken achieved five gold medals en route to 962 points. Austrians Peter Penz-Georg Fischler were third with 785 points despite crashing in the Winterberg finale and gaining no points.
In abbreviated seasons, two first-year U.S. doubles teams scored World Cup points. Justin Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., finished in 15th place with 261 points. Their season peaked in December when they anchored a U.S. gold medal in the Lake Placid team relay. Krewson, however, suffered a knee injury at the World Championships in January, ending the duo’s year.
Also, Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich., and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah, ended up 20th with 144 points in less than half the season. They returned home to continue their development in Lake Placid and Park City.
The 2015-2016 World Cup season comes to an end Sunday with men’s singles, starting at 4:10 AM ET, followed by the Viessmann Team Relay World Cup, presented by BMW. The U.S. team also has chances to place in the top three of both standings as two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., is third on the season as is the USA Luge relay team.
Both competitions will be streamed live at www.fil-luge.org
Interview with Erin Hamlin, Summer Britcher, Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman below