Above: Erin Hamlin reacts after her second run during the Jan. 16 Oberhof World Cup
“It was nice. I haven’t always had great results here,” said the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion. “It’s not one of my most favorite stops on tour, but we got here and the track (ice) was built unreal. It was in great shape. The profiles and all the entrances and exits of the curves were really smooth so it was a refreshing Oberhof I will say.”
The home team grabbed all the medals in the Viessmann World Cup men’s and women’s singles races, as Felix Loch won his fourth consecutive event and took the overall World Cup lead in the process at the site of his first of four world championships.
His teammate, Tatjana Huefner, who had off-season Achilles surgery, emerged from the inter-team competition to claim the gold medal on her home course. It was her 34th career triumph and fifth in Oberhof.
Both set track records before a large, boisterous audience, accompanied by a college football-type band whose music selection was appropriate for each nation as they slid the 14 curve track.
Above: Summer Britcher fist bumps the crowd after her second run
Chris Mazdzer, nursing a sore shoulder, and Tucker West finished 14th and 15th, respectively. They are third and fourth, in that order, after six tour stops. As both U.S. athletes made it inside the top 15, they qualify for Sunday’s Sprint Cup and can gain more points toward the World Cup overall standings.
The women’s race also saw a change in the season rankings, as defending champion Natalie Geisenberger, second Saturday to Huefner, overtook Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., for the lead in the year-long race.
“I saw that coming a little bit,” said Britcher. “You see the times in training and you see where you stand. It’s close. Going into the season I wasn’t expecting to ever be ranked number one. So I was happy to be able to experience that for a couple of weeks. And now I know it’s possible going forward into future seasons. I’m not upset but it’s definitely changed my mindset.”
Britcher, now completely recovered from last week’s neck strain, was eighth in the race and dropped to second overall, followed by Hamlin in the World Cup standings.
Now the chaser, Britcher, a 2014 Olympian, was complimentary of the course preparation and conditions.
“All the transitions were super smooth. The ice was super smooth,” she said. “Coming from Sigulda (Latvia) which is a very difficult track, it felt really nice to slide here. It was not too challenging.”
But Oberhof is a track where curve combinations come quickly to the sliders until the exit of turn 13, which leads to a long straightaway followed by the lengthy, circular Kriesl curve to the finish.
In addition, USA Luge dealt with changing conditions from mid-week training to today’s races.
“Our first day of training we had three runs which was half of our runs for most of us,” continued Britcher. “The ice was a couple of seconds slow so that was frustrating to have half of our training runs on slow ice. But things felt good the whole week. I felt pretty confident going into the race today.”
Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. placed 11th. She and Britcher, who each improved two spots in the final heat, will get another chance, with Hamlin, to add more World Cup points in the sprint which is limited to the top 15 sleds from the discipline event of the weekend.
Huefner, Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalist dating back to 2006, opened her race in a track record time of 41.355 seconds, 0.03 of a second in front of fellow German Dajana Eitberger, the Igls, Austria World Cup winner.
Above: Chris Mazdzer at speed in Oberhof (AP Photo)
In the final run, Huefner used her first run advantage to hold off Geisenberger, also of Germany, who had the heat’s fastest time. Huefner’s 41.651 provided a combined 1 minute, 23.006 seconds and her first win in two years. She was the sixth different gold medalist in eight events thus far.
Geisenberger’s silver medal time of 1:23.048 sent her to the top of the standings with 580 World Cup points, just nine ahead of Britcher. Hamlin is third with 536. Eitberger took the bronze in 1:23.139 and is fourth on the campaign.
Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y. had the sixth best individual runs in each leg and totaled 1:23.616.
“It was an okay week for me,” added Hamlin. “I was kind of thinking, ‘OK, it’s Oberhof. Let’s see how it goes.’ Training went pretty well so it was fun.”
Thanks in large part to the conditions.
“It’s definitely the best condition I’ve ever slid here. It made it a lot nicer. It made the track work like it’s supposed to and less fighting as you’re going down because there’s a lot going on. There are maybe two big, big sweeping curves, but there’s mostly smaller, quicker transitions, so we’re always kept busy down the whole track, except for out of (curve) 13.”
Sweeney was clocked in 1:23.959 and stands seventh on the season with 403 points. Raychel Germaine of Roswell, Ga., did not qualify in Friday’s one-heat Nations Cup event. In her first season racing the World Cup, Germaine is in 14th place with 205 points.
Loch, 26, is now roaring into Koenigssee, Germany for the World Championships two weeks from now in his home region. After a slow start to the season as the result of a disqualification in the season-opener in Igls, followed by an unfortunate confrontation with a wall in Lake Placid, the winner of 28 World Cup races is hitting his stride at just the right time.
The winner’s track record of 43.029 was followed by 43.039, totaling 1:26.068. It was a luge eternal margin of 0.38 seconds over Andi Langenhan’s 1:26.453. Ralf Palik captured the bronze medal in 1:26.547.
Loch has 590 points to lead the tour. Wolfgang Kindl of Austria, the World Cup leader entering Oberhof, is second with 566 after today’s fifth place performance.
Mazdzer, the two-time Olympian from Saranac Lake, N.Y., had a pair of trips that totaled 1:27.010. After finishing fifth overall the past two World Cup seasons, Mazdzer is currently third with 475 World Cup points.
West, of Ridgefield, Conn., a member of the Sochi Olympic team, registered 1:27.131. The 20-year-old Union College student is fourth on the year with 399 points.
Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. placed 28th in 1:27.871 and is 15th-ranked with 208 points.
Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah was disqualified for carrying too much additional weight. Morris is in 20th place with 147.
The Oberhof race weekend concludes Sunday with doubles beginning at 5 AM EST, followed by the Viessmann World Cup Sprint, presented by BMW, where the timing begins some 100 meters below the start handles.
Follow the action with live streaming and ticker at www.fil-luge.org.
Audio with Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher below