USA Luge’s Summer Britcher and Chris Mazdzer each took fourth place in their respective sprint races, while teammates Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman were fifth in the sprint doubles.
Meanwhile, there were shocking developments in the women’s and doubles sprints as Switzerland’s Martina Kocher executed an upset in winning the gold medal, while the German doubles team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken were disqualified for using an overweight sled.
The sprint format uses the flying start concept where the timing begins some 100 meters below the start handles. In traditional singles and doubles racing, the clock starts running shortly after the athletes pull from the handles. Maximum velocity is crucial in that opening stretch.
“We had really interesting race conditions,” said Britcher, who held the World Cup leader’s bib for several weeks this season. “So it put a little mystery in the air as to what was going to happen. The sprint is so different already in that it takes out the start aspect, sort of.”
“This week has been a roller coaster in the sense of the conditions,” said Mazdzer. “My times have been all over the place. When the ice has been fast my times have been relatively good, but the past four days the track’s been slow.”
Meanwhile, Mortensen and Terdiman, fourth in the recent Oberhof World Cup sprint for their career high point, keep working their way to that first podium result.
“We’re definitely paying our dues to get that medal, if it comes,” said Mortensen, the front driver.
“When it comes,” interjected Terdiman.
“When we get that medal, it’s going to be pretty well deserved and we’ll be ecstatic,” continued Mortensen. “We’re definitely putting in the time to get it. That’s for sure.”
And what will it take?
“Consistency is number one,” he went on to say. “Then you look at other things if the times aren’t there. For Jayson and I, we both know we have to work on our starts. If we had starts that were competitive with the top five in the field, we’d be in the top five every race. So we know where we can find time and that’s something we’re going to work on into the summer. But for now, it’s all about consistent, clean runs.”
The doubles event saw German teams initially take gold and silver, or did they? Olympic and World Champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt raced away from the field in capturing the sprint world title by over 0.2 of a second.
Eggert and Benecken, neck and neck with Wendl and Arlt for the last two seasons in World Cup and World Championship racing, were second until their disqualification.
The women’s sprint saw Kocher – with her own miracle on ice - score her first career medal. Kocher, who has an extensive history of training with Germany and had a noteworthy week of practice runs, slid to the gold in 39.451 seconds. She finished ahead of “teammates” Natalie Geisenberger, who was 0.03 off the pace, and Dajana Eitberger settling 0.08 from Kocher.
Britcher, a Sochi Olympian from Glen Rock, Pa., completed the ever-changing course in 39.594.
“I’m pretty happy with how it turned out,” she continued. “I was a little rushed at the handles. I couldn’t get my face shield on right away. I think that actually made me pull a faster start because the clock only had a couple of seconds left when I pulled off.
“I had a fantastic run, especially compared to how my training had been going. I was thrilled with both runs today, and I hope I can put down two more tomorrow.”
Three-time Olympian Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., the Sochi bronze medalist, placed 12th in 39.869.
Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn and Raychel Germaine of Roswell, Ga. did not qualify in the morning run.
On the iconic Koenigssee track, which blends high speed with a number of unique technical elements, Wendl and Arlt first captured the morning qualifying run and then crossed the finish line in the one heat shoot-out in 39.032. They topped Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler who took the silver medal in 39.261. Italy’s Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber claimed the bronze medal in 39.428.
Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., in just their second World Championship start together, had the fifth place time of 39.573 and had a faster start speed (70.6 miles per hour) than Wendl and Arlt.
The American result came in the midst of changing weather and softer ice, something they anticipate for the Saturday doubles event.
“When we got here just a little under two weeks ago, it was really cold, hard ice,” remarked Terdiman. “Tomorrow, we’re supposed to have a high of 50 degrees. So the ice softens up quite a bit. The track crew here, I believe, is going to turn the refrigeration up and keep it as hard as possible. The steel temperatures will be allowed to be higher. You’re going to see some really fast times anyway, but it definitely changes the way drives are done.”
Justin Krewson of Eastport, N.Y. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa. made their World Championship debut, placing 11th in 39.791.
Felix Loch of Germany has won the last five World Cup events before these World Championships in his adopted home. The double Olympic champion rode that momentum to yet another victory and his fifth World Championship crown.
Loch led a German sweep in front of Mazdzer. The winner clocked 38.574. Andi Langenhan had faster start speed and a better first interval time, but he drifted back to 38.794, with Ralf Palik stepping onto the World Championship podium for the first time with a time of 38.808.
Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian from Saranac Lake, N.Y., recorded 38.876, just 0.08 from the silver medal.
“I was taking this run as kind of a test run for the World Championships (Sunday singles) where after talking with the coaching staff, I’m going to go to the extreme on one thing and learn how far I can push the limit and then back off for the World Championships based on my mistakes."
Not particularly happy about his qualifying run, Mazdzer, who also led he World Cup standings briefly this winter, made some adjustments for the race run.
“I take this run in the sprint and it’s almost flawless. The conditions for the men actually cleared up. We had really good ice conditions and I think it took the men by surprise. So there were a lot of moving parts today. To walk away with a fourth place is absolutely incredible.”
Sochi Olympian Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn. was 15th in 39.587.
Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. and Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah did not advance from the earlier qualifying run.
Saturday’s schedule offers doubles and women’s singles starting at 4:15 AM ET and can be viewed via the live stream on the FIL website at www.fil-luge.org.
NBC Sports Network will air two hours of coverage from the World Championships on February 11 beginning at 6:30 PM ET.
Interviews with Chris Mazdzer, Summer Britcher and Matt Mortensen/Jayson Terdiman below.