SIGULDA, Latvia – USA Luge was led Saturday by Erin Hamlin’s fifth place effort in Sigulda, Latvia, followed by a sixth place result from the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman as the Viessmann World Cup season resumed in frigid conditions after the holiday break.
Summer Britcher, with three victories this season, settled for 11th place, but retained possession of the World Cup leader’s bib. She raced and held on to the top spot despite an unusual training run incident last Saturday. In the course’s outrun, Britcher spun 180 degrees and went backwards. The result was a strained neck and a cracked sled.
Despite the odd occurrence, the Glen Rock, Pa. athlete still enjoys the demanding, 15-turn Sigulda track.
“This track is really challenging and I like it because of that,” remarked the Sochi Olympian. “Sometimes it can be intimidating, but I’d say for the most part, even when I’m struggling here, I still enjoy it because it’s like a puzzle you have to figure out. So it might not have been the easiest track after a two-week break, but it’s a fun one. It doesn’t beat you up too much.”
Hamlin was perplexed by her start times and stood seventh at the break, but she was able to accelerate to end the second heat and moved up two spots.
“The runs today weren’t my best,” said Hamlin, the Sochi Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion from Remsen, N.Y. “I had a really good training run the last day, so I was pretty excited to go into the race with that. But unfortunately that didn’t completely pan out.”
Temperatures hovered between 3 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit for the two events on the demanding track near the Baltic Sea, the site of last season’s World Championships. The course not only serves as home ice for Latvia, but it was also Russia’s home for many years prior to the construction of the course in Sochi.
The results showed it as Tatiana Ivanova of Russia lowered the track record in both heats in winning for the fourth time in her career, while the Latvian doubles team of Oskars Gudramovics and Peteris Kalnins, in second place, secured their first career World Cup medal.
“It’s always interesting when we race in Sigulda because you not only have the people that are consistently strong such as the Germans and the Austrians,” said Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. “But you have the Latvians and the Russians. This is their home track. So I feel like the competitive pool of athletes at this particular track increases quite a bit because of everyone’s familiarity with it.”
Mortensen and Terdiman exiting curve 13 in Sigulda, Latvia on December 9, 2016
Fifth to eighth places were separated by less than 0.07 of a second, illustrating the 2014 Olympian’s point.
The doubles runners-up were helped by German World Cup leaders Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, who crashed approaching the finish after posting the fastest intermediate times.
The mishap caused Eggert and Benecken, who set a start record in the final leg, to finish 21st. As a result, they surrendered their World Cup overall advantage to race winners and teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. The Sochi Olympic gold medalists cruised to a 0.338 of a second victory.
Ivanova was just 0.001 of a second ahead of Germany’s Tatyana Huefner after the first leg, before stretching the margin at the end. The Russian, winning for the fourth time in her career, clocked times of 41.840 and 41.794 seconds, rubbing American Kate Hansen from the record book. Hansen had set the mark just a few weeks prior to the Sochi Winter Games.
Ivanova totaled 1 minute, 23.634 seconds, followed by Huefner’s 1:23.731. It marked the fifth different women’s winner in the seven races to date. Double Olympic medalist Natalie Geisenberger, also of Germany, claimed the bronze in 1:23.766.
Eliza Cauce (formerly Eliza Tiruma) of Latvia, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist in the team relay, had a season best fourth place result, followed by Hamlin in 1:24.192.
“In the first run, the top was a little bit off,” continued the Hamlin. “It didn’t feel smooth….didn’t feel fast. But for a run in Sigulda, where you have decent lines all the way down and don’t hit any walls, is pretty solid for me. So I was OK with it. I knew I had a lot of time in the bag I could bring out in the second run.
“The second run was better. It wasn’t great, but the bottom, from (curve) 11 down was pretty awesome. So that saved me and gave me some speed.”
The three-time Olympian entered the weekend second in the overall World Cup standings, but dropped a spot after being overtaken by Geisenberger, by 11 points, for second place behind Britcher.
Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. struggled early in the opening leg, but rallied with the fourth best final run and was ninth in 1:24.422. Sweeney is now seventh on the campaign. The 22-year-old had the single fastest heat among the United States women, and will get the start in Sunday afternoon’s team relay.
Britcher’s 11th place time was 1:24.656. Raychel Germaine of Roswell, Ga. wound up 21st in 1:26.098.
Since winning their Sochi gold medal, Wendl and Arlt have been pushed aggressively by Eggert and Benecken. So with today’s crash, the winners had some breathing room between them and the Latvians.
Wendl and Arlt had individual runs of 41.778 and 41.864 for a combined 1:23.642.
Gudramovics and Kalnins celebrated their silver in 1:23.980, with Austria’s Peter Penz and Georg Fischler in third place with 1:24.013. Mortensen and Terdiman registered 1:24.408.
“Matt and I are starting the second half of our second season together,” stated Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., another Sochi Olympian. “We’re getting more comfortable with each other. The extra sessions we had here last weekend were a little rough. When we got into official race training, we knew what we had to do, we knew how to do it, and the second run (Wednesday), we figured out the right lines to be taken. We fine-tuned it from there on.”
The U.S. twosome is sixth in the season-long World Cup chase, but only two points from fifth place. They will anchor Sunday’s team relay.
Teammates Justin Krewson of Eastport, N.Y. and Andrew Sherk from Fort Washington, Pa. finished 12th in 1:25.506 and are 12th overall.
A third U.S. doubles team, Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Anthony Espinoza of Park City, Utah, is spending the second half of the season training on ice at home.
The Sigulda World Cup race program concludes Sunday with men’s singles followed by the second team relay of the winter. USA Luge grabbed its first-ever relay gold in Lake Placid last month.
The FIL live stream begins at 3:15 AM EST, and can be seen at www.fil-luge.org.