SIGULDA, Latvia - The unpredictability of Sigulda’s difficult luge track was never more evident than in the men’s singles race Sunday, where Wolfgang Kindl of Austria, the Viessmann World Cup overall leader, and Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., in second place before the weekend, were poised to win medals.
Standing second and third, respectively, in the race after one heat behind German leader Felix Loch, neither landed on the podium. Curve 14 victimized Kindl and Mazdzer in the final heat, while blistering runs by defending World Champion Semen Pavlichenko of Russia and Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn. replaced them.
“The first run was okay. I was working out the cobwebs,” said West, the bronze medalist, who gave his team its 16th World Cup luge medal of the winter, adding to its single season record. “This is only my second time in Sigulda. Last year was the first time. So I’m still slightly uncomfortable with the track. In the second run I was able to lay back a little bit more. But all in all, I was happy with both runs.”
Loch, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Champion, won his third straight World Cup race (two singles events and a sprint cup) as he builds momentum to the World Championships in three weeks in his native Bavarian home region.
Pavlichenko rallied from fifth place with the best final run and took the silver medal, with West elevating himself from ninth to the bronze. The 20-year-old’s furious rally was reminiscent of Mazdzer’s climb in the 2015 Sigulda World Championships that saw him rise from 13th place to sixth in the last heat.
Kindl fell from second to seventh place as his streak of six straight medal-winning efforts ended. Yet the Austrian remains atop the World Cup standings with 511 overall points, while Loch is closing quickly at 490.
Mazdzer settled for eighth place in 1 minute, 36.876 seconds. The two-time United States Olympian is third overall with 447 points, while West, a member of the Sochi Olympic team, improves to fourth with 373.
Germany completed the sweep later by winning the team relay, with Latvia second, Russia third and USA Luge fourth. The Americans, who won in Lake Placid last month, are third in the World Cup team relay standings after three of six events. Latvia’s silver medal Sunday propelled them to the head of the field in the season-long World Cup chase.
Loch, now second in the men’s standings, posted times of 48.136 and 48.180 for a combined 1:36.316. Pavlichenko, who captured his world title here last winter over Loch, totaled 1:36.531. West had the third fastest second leg and posted 1:36.775.
“I think the first run just took the pressure off me,” continued West, who had the second and fourth quickest start times. “I was sitting in ninth (so) you’re not thinking you’re viable for medals. So really in the second run, I was able to relax a lot more and lay it out.
“I have a love-hate relationship with this track. It really tries to bite me. I got a lot of bruises during training this week, but when you get those good runs, it feels so good. I feel this is one of those tracks I really will like down the road, but I’m just trying to find the rhythm still.”
The U.S. team was rounded out by 2014 Olympian Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., 25th in a time of 1:37.713, followed by Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, who was 26th in 1:37.738.
In the team relay, Germany featured Tatyana Huefner, Loch and the doubles sled of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. They totaled 2:14.386.
Latvia’s silver medal clocking was 2:14.602, followed by Russia with the bronze medal in 2:14.757.
The American relay unit was comprised of singles athletes Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. and Mazdzer, who had the fastest change time among all men. Both had the single best heats among their respective teammates from the singles events. Sochi Olympians Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., sixth in doubles Saturday, slid the anchor leg, and also were quick off the handles. The three sleds combined for 2:15.009.
“I’m pretty happy with the way racing went for Jayson and me this whole weekend, in general,” said Mortensen. “After last year’s relay, I felt like Jayson and I had some unfinished business here. We had a fast reaction and a good run today. So there is not much more I could ask for. All in all, it was a good weekend for us.”
“Our run today was another solid one for us,” added Terdiman. “We’re glad to be leaving Sigulda with some consistency on the sled.”
Ten teams were in the field, with the Czech Republic being disqualified for missing the overhead touch pad just beyond the normal finish line.
The Viessmann World Cup tour now flies to Germany for the resumption of racing, with the next event in Oberhof January 16-17.
Thereafter, the teams will move into Koenigssee, Germany for international training week leading up to the World Championships January 29-31. The 2016 edition will include the new sprint format on January 29, with qualifying on January 28 to identify the top 15 for the single heat final in the three disciplines. The rest of the Koenigssee program includes men’s and women’s singles, doubles and the team relay.
The FIL will provide live streaming of all remaining World Cup races as well as the World Championships.
NBC Sports Network will present two hours of coverage in early February.