Emily Sweeney caps her comeback from Olympic crash to claim World Cup bronze in season debut

By Sandy Caligiore | Dec. 01, 2018, 6:52 p.m. (ET)

Emily Sweeney has made it back from South Korea.

In stark contrast to that cold winter night of February 13 when the Olympic track defeated the 25-year-old and put a question mark on her career, Saturday broke sunny, clear and comfortable as the 2018 Olympian won a World Cup luge bronze medal. Her first run since Pyeongchang temporarily lowered the track record and put her in position to medal.

“I was pretty happy with the runs that I had,” said Sweeney. “To end up on the podium was fantastic.

“I felt my first run wouldn’t hold for a track record, but I thought it was good enough for a top five, and I ended up in third.”

Sweeney, who captured the Nations Cup qualifying race Thursday night, finished right behind Germans Natalie Geisenberger and Julia Taubitz. It was USA Luge’s first World Cup medal of the season, and Sweeney’s first since winning a sprint World Cup race last year in Winterberg, Germany.

The World Cup podium achievement was not only good for her comeback psyche, but enables her to retain “A” team status with USA Luge.

“This was a huge relief to me, but before this week, I could not have seen myself on that podium.”

Teammate Raychel Germaine was 15th, while Summer Britcher’s hopes ended early as she pulled to the left wall at the start of her first heat. The two-time Olympian rallied in the second leg to place 16th. Brittney Arndt was 26th in her first World Cup race at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The Whistler weekend ended with the first World Cup team relay of the year. It was a new look for the United States, whose lineup included Sweeney and Jonny Gustafson in singles, and the Chris Mazdzer-Jayson Terdiman doubles sled.

The Americans collectively finished in sixth place despite the fastest women’s leg from Sweeney and top three reaction times from Gustafson and Mazdzer-Terdiman.



Sweeney’s crash on her final Olympic run saw her feet hit the roof, deflecting her head-first into the bottom of the curve. She got up and made her way to the media mix zone with no assistance to let fans know she was fine. But follow-up medical exams in the U.S. forced a slow-down of her summer preparation. It was only as fall drew closer that Sweeney began to slowly ramp up her training and sliding.

“I had a big grind this summer,” she admitted. “It was so challenging for me both mentally and physically, so to have a result like this in my first race back was pretty crazy.”

As the team went to Europe for the month of November, Sweeney opted for training weeks in Park City, Utah and Calgary, Alberta with the U.S. junior national team and Whistler.

The youngsters then departed for their Junior World Cup opener in Park City, while Sweeney spent Thanksgiving at Whistler and awaited the arrival of her teammates from Innsbruck.

Maybe it was a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder, but seeing her peers arrive was a welcomed sight.

“I saw in the training times this week that I was going pretty fast,” stated Sweeney. “That was unexpected. It’s like a switch went off. When I was training with the juniors, I was still trying to do my best, but I wasn’t as competitive as I was today. When the (national) team showed up and I was welcomed back into Team USA with our group again, I definitely went to another level in my own sliding. I rose to the occasion.”

On the other hand, Geisenberger can’t rise any higher. The veteran racer, married in the off-season, has started the new campaign with three straight wins. The two-time Olympic champion now has both the start and track records at Whistler after her second run time. The German clocked 1 minute, 16.904 seconds to defeat Taubitz by nearly 0.3 of a second. Sweeney had a combined 1:17.321.

Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., had a combined 1:17.750 for 15th place, Britcher, from Glen Rock, Pa., posted the 16th place time of 1:17.773, while Arndt, of Park City, was 26th in 1:18.121.

Geisenberger’s tour-leading total is a perfect 300, followed by Taubitz with 255 after three straight silver medals behind her teammate. Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova is third with 160 overall points. Britcher is seventh, Sweeney 16th, Germaine 17th and Arndt 22nd.



Since the inception of the team relay in 2011, two things have been consistent: the excitement of the event and the domination of Germany with 35 race victories. They have won every season-long World Cup chase to date, but Russia threw down the gauntlet at Whistler, defeating Geisenberger, Felix Loch and the Toni Eggert-Sascha Benecken tandem.

In the first relay of the winter, Russia raced Ivanova, 2015 World Champion Semen Pavlichenko and the unknown doubles duo of Vsevolod Kashkin and Konstantin Korshunov. They collaborated for a winning time of 2:04.124. Germany was 0.09 of a second off the pace, with Canada taking bronze nearly 0.3 from the winners.

There will be a total of six team relays this season, with the second slated for next Saturday in Calgary, Alberta. The remaining four relays are set to be held in Europe during the second half of the campaign.

As the tour heads east after the weekend, OlympicChannel.com will offer live streaming Friday and Saturday for the third World Cup series of the season.

NBC Sports Network will provide coverage of Whistler women’s singles tomorrow (Sunday) night from 8 - 10 PM ET.