Chris Mazdzer in action. 1/31/16 AP Photo
KOENIGSSEE, Germany – The United States departed the luge World Championships on Sunday in Bavaria with three fourth place finishes after Chris Mazdzer’s second fourth of the weekend.
USA Luge also added fifth and sixth place results, and scored a pair of U23 medals prior to leaving, including Sunday’s gold from 20-year-old Tucker West to go with Summer Britcher’s silver a day earlier in the women’s U23 competition.
“It was not a focus of mine, per se, but it was always in the back of your mind,” said West, of Ridgefield, Conn., who owns two World Cup medals this winter. “You know the race is there. Obviously the main focus was to do well in worlds. This was kind of a cherry on top.”
Tucker West negotiates the second chicane during the 2016 World Championships
Mazdzer, the two-time Olympian who briefly held the World Cup leader’s bib in December thanks to a pair of wins and a silver medal, placed just off the podium in a men’s singles race won by Germany’s Felix Loch.
“I’m very ecstatic about the day,” said Mazdzer. “It’s tough to take two fourth place finishes but I thought I executed pretty well. We made some last minute changes and I think it really paid off.”
The top American was fourth best in each heat, and later pulled the quickest reaction time among the men in the team relay which was also captured by Germany.
“It was a close one today. I’m really excited, but I was just barely off that podium.”
Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., also took fourth in Friday’s Sprint World Championship. Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., was fourth in the women’s Sprint Worlds.
Weather played a role in the final day of World Championship racing, held in the presence of IOC President Dr. Thomas Bach. Under a low cloud ceiling there was rain and snow moving about Watzmann Mountain, which hovers above the oldest artificially refrigerated track in the world.
“Luckily the best people go first, so we dodged a bullet there,” added Mazdzer. “I know some people (starting) in the 20s and 30s really didn’t have a chance to put down a competitive time. So initially that worked out in my favor. On the second run, we’re on the flip side of that, so coming down I was still able to have a fourth place run overall. That goes to show how well the sled was running and how well we planned for these conditions, so I’m extremely happy with the outcome.”
The Americans ended the weekend event taking fifth place in the team relay. In winning this event for the sixth consecutive year, Germany waved auf weidersehen to the field by a 1.5 second margin. They are undefeated in this competition at the World Championships.
Loch, after a sluggish start to his season that saw him disqualified in the Innsbruck opener, and hit a wall in the second event in Lake Placid, has now won seven straight gold medals. The last of that series was this men’s world championship. It was his fifth in the two-heat event and sixth, including Friday’s sprint title. Loch headed the podium in the five previous World Cups coming to these championships.
The 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion was the second sled down the intricate Koenigssee track, starting just after West in conditions that offered rain and snow. The German wasted no time laying down the law, taking a commanding 0.23 of a second advantage that he later converted into a victory of 0.42.
Loch recorded times of 49.173 and 49.691 seconds to total 1 minute, 38.864 seconds. Teammate Ralf Palik, a breakout performer at this event along with Switzerland’s Martina Kocher, took his second medal, the silver, in 1:39.287. Austrian Wolfgang Kindl picked up the bronze medal in 1:39.553, with Mazdzer next in 1:39.733.
West, a Sochi Olympian, posted 1:40.181. He had the fastest starts in both heats, but was among the least experienced of the contenders in Koenigssee entering the race. In fact, West and his sled struggled mightily in the run-up to the weekend.
It’s never easy figuring out the riddle that is Koenigssee, with its tricky S-shaped turns, bent straightaway, Kreisel (circle) turn, rapid fire chicane and uphill section approaching the finish.
But West persevered despite a training run crash that damaged part of his sled and helmet.
“Training for me this week was very, very tough,” he remarked. “I don’t think I had a single good run. So mentally I was pretty shocked going into this race. I was really frustrated coming in, but today I was able to channel that frustration into something productive. I was able to put together two decent runs and even have two first place starts. All in all, it was good.”
Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, starting 31st, was 23rd in 1:42.562. Sochi Olympian Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. took 28th in 51.310 coming from the 24th start position. After one leg, the event was cut to the top 25.
Germany’s stacked deck, also known as its relay team, featured their weekend race winners who also collected the Sochi Olympic gold medal. Natalie Geisenberger, Loch and the doubles tandem of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, living in the Koenigssee area, hammered the field in 2:44.062.
Latvia, which has made a habit of medaling in team relays including the 2014 Winter Olympics, finished second in 2:45.614, followed by Canada in 2:45.907. The USA, with Erin Hamlin, Mazdzer and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, accrued a time of 2:46.145.
All tolled, Germany led the medal count with 12; Switzerland, Austria and Italy each took 2; and Latvia, Canada and Russia collected one apiece.
Beyond Koenigssee, the World Cup tour now resumes in Sochi for next weekend’s resumption on the 2014 Olympic track. There are three more World Cup races, on consecutive weekends, prior to the end of the season.
In early March, some athletes from the circuit will visit PyeongChang to homologate the course that will be used in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer interviews below