Clockwise: Running of the Balls, Tucker West, Mortensen and Terdiman, Hyrns and Espinoza, . All photos Nancie Battaglia
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Tucker West earned a bronze medal in the Viessmann World Cup held at the Olympic Sports Complex on Mount Van Hoevenberg. In doing so, he emphatically qualified for the 2018 Olympic team heading for PyeongChang in February.Joining West in South Korea will be Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., who placed eighth in today’s competition. He crossed the finish line in one minute, 42.451 seconds.Going into today’s race, West and Mazdzer had tentatively sewn up Olympic team nominations. The third and final slot became a showdown between Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah and Jonny Gustafson of Massena, N.Y.Morris’ nomination came with an exclamation point, matching his career-best fifth place with a time of 1:42.229.20 year-old Gustafson posted his personal best individual run time down the 3,707 foot long track, but it was not enough to chase down Morris. Gustafson finished with a two-run combined time of 1:43.274, ranked 22nd.West, a 2014 Olympian, will compete in his second Olympic Games, while Mazdzer will add 2018 Olympian to his resume, which also includes appearances at the 2010 and 2014 Games. Morris will be a first-time Olympian.“It’s a huge weight off of our shoulders,” said West of the five race qualification process. “These were normal World Cup races, these past five races, but the extra stress of trying to qualify for the Olympic team, after you put in so much work for four years, it’s definitely a burden. So I’m glad this whole process is done with. I’m thrilled that all the hard work and sacrifices have paid off and I’m excited to show the world what we can do.”West held the lead after the first heat, breaking his own track record on a cold, crisp morning with temperatures in the high single digits Fahrenheit. However, two Russian athletes posted strong second heats to take the gold and silver medal spots on the podium, while West lost time at the last section of the track. Roman Repilov and Semen Pavlichenko posted times of 1:41.874 and 1:41.938 respectively, while West’s bronze medal time was 1:42.132.
In the overall Viessmann World Cup standings, Germany’s Felix Loch, who has an unfriendly relationship with the Lake Placid track, is the leader with 501 points despite a seventh place finish today. Pavlichenko in second with 351 points, while today’s sixth place finisher, Wolfgang Kindl of Austria, is third with 329 points.West holds 11th with 196 points and Mazdzer is 20th with 133 points, while Morris holds 22nd with 115 points. Gustafson will finish his season with 55 points, currently in a three-way tie for 30th.Prior to the men’s competition, the doubles race was held, also seeing track records shattered. In the first heat, Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. broke the track record of 43.641, set by Italy’s Gerhard Plankensteiner and Oswald Haselrieder at the 2009 World Championships. However, their record time of 43.515 was eclipsed by eventual gold medalists Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken of Germany, with an opening round time of 43.372.Mortensen and Terdiman suffered from mistakes on their second run and dropped back to eventually finish in fifth place with a time of 1:27.806. The winners stopped the clock in 1:26.806, while Austria’s Peter Penz and Georg Fischler continued their recent string of podium finishes by finishing second in 1:27.440. Representing North America at the medal ceremony were bronze medalists Tristan Walker and Justin Snith of Canada with a time of 1:27.683.However, fans of USA Luge were witness to a nail-biter for the second and final Olympic team doubles berth. Justin Krewson of Eastport, N.Y. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa. squared off against Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Anthony Espinoza of Park City, Utah in a winner-take-all situation. After the first heat of competition, the teams were separated by merely .012 seconds, a margin so close that it would essentially all come down to the second heat, despite Krewson and Sherk’s narrow lead.Krewson and Sherk trailed Hyrns and Espinoza until the final split time, finding .074 seconds in the last few hundred feet of track and posting the fourth fastest time of the heat. The duo finished a career-best sixth and punched a ticket to the Winter Games in 1:27.829. Hyrns and Espinoza crossed the line in 1:27.891 in eight place.According to Krewson, the goal in the second run was to “make it to the finish without skidding or hitting any walls”. Mission accomplished.“I’m speechless,” added Sherk. “It’s been such a stressful first half (of the season) and to know that we’re finally going to be able to make it to the Games will be amazing.”This will be the first Olympic appearance for Krewson and Sherk. Mortensen and Terdiman are both 2014 Olympians, though with different teammates.The overall standings see Eggert and Benecken with 585 points in first place with four races remaining. Their teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt sit in second with 431 points, while Penz and Fischler hold third with 331.Mortensen and Terdiman rank seventh with 268 points. Hyrns and Espinoza, currently sitting in 12th place, will end their season with 193 points. Krewson and Sherk are in 17th with 160 points.The Viessmann World Cup continues tomorrow with the women’s competition at 9:30 AM ET, followed by the BMW Sprint World Cup at 12:05 PM. The sprint features the top 15 finishers from the men, women and doubles Viessmann World Cup race and uses a lowered starting eye. The goal is to reward sliding skills and not start speed.Luge fans will be able to watch live coverage from Lake Placid on Saturday via www.OlympicChannel.com. NBC Sports Network, partnering with USA Luge, the NY Olympic Regional Development Authority, the FIL and Carr-Hughes Productions, will broadcast race action on Dec. 17 from 7-9 PM ET.