Britcher leads USA Luge on opening day with 6th place result

By Sandy Caligiore | Nov. 24, 2018, 12:21 p.m. (ET)

Above: Summer Britcher slides between curves 9 and 10 in Igls, Austria during her second run of the competition

IGLS, Austria – Two-time Olympian Summer Britcher led the USA Luge effort Saturday in the Austrian Tyrol, just outside Innsbruck, as she finished sixth in the season opening World Cup race.

“I wasn’t too happy with my runs overall,” remarked Britcher, who won a gold medal in Igls in the 2012 Youth Olympic Games and was the U23 World Champion in 2017. “I had a few errors that I should have been able to avoid. But it really just felt good to be racing again.”

Raychel Germaine was 16th, while Brittney Arndt placed 17th in her World Cup debut after graduating from the junior ranks. Emily Sweeney did not compete as she is preparing at Whistler, B.C. That’s where the 2018 Olympian will start her World Cup season next weekend.

Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman placed 10th in their return doubles race on the short Igls track. It was the duo’s first World Cup event together since 2008-2009 when they raced three times. Prior to that, they won a pair of medals at junior world championships in 2007 and 2008.

The snow-sparse Tyrolean region offered spring-like conditions as temps climbed into the low 50s by the afternoon doubles event, but that wasn’t reflected in the ice surface.

“During training the ice was awesome,” said Mazdzer. “The (curve) profiles are very different than the last couple of years. This is definitely a different Igls than we’ve slid on in the past few years. I think you saw that today with a lot of really good teams struggling.”

“We achieved our goal,” added Terdiman. “These other doubles guys have almost three times as many runs this year as Chris and I do together. I’m very happy with the result today, very happy to hit my mark, and super excited to be included in the sprint race tomorrow because I really feel like Chris and I can shine in that.”

 

WOMEN

Despite not winning an individual heat, German Natalie Geisenberger came from behind to overtake teammate Julia Taubitz on her way to her 44th career victory. The 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion was second fastest in each leg, good enough to defeat Taubitz by 0.3 of a second.

Geisenberger’s two runs totaled 1 minute, 19.619 seconds at the 1964 and 1976 Olympic venue.

Ironically, Taubitz set an Igls track record in the first heat to grab the midway lead. Tatjana Huefner, a winner of all three Olympic medals, completed a team sweep in third place, clocking 1:19.885.

Geisenberger and Huefner were members of the Pyeongchang Olympic team as was Dajana Eitberger. But the latter athlete was one of many sleds throughout the entire day that had problems on the Igls course. Eitberger was 20th after one run, posted the best second heat time, and wound up eighth overall.

Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., third in last year’s World Cup chase, was sixth at the break and sixth at the end in 1:20.014 on a track that saw some curves built up with additional ice thus changing some of their profiles.

“With the FIL cutting our World Cup training runs from six down to five, it kind of added a new aspect of how you only have five runs now to get ready for the race and be at your best,” she said.  “I have a lot of experience here on this track, in general. Last year here, I actually crashed in the qualifying race so I didn’t get a chance to race. I haven’t really raced here since worlds two years ago, so it felt good to have a decent, fairly solid race.”

She will be able to add to her World Cup point total in Sunday’s sprint race.

Germaine and Arndt were 16th and 17th, respectively. Both had to qualify in Friday’s Nations Cup race. Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., was timed in 1:20.195, while Arndt, of Park City, Utah, was timed in 1:20.219.

To illustrate must how tight an Igls race can be, both placed just outside the top 15 that advance to the sprint race and the associated World Cup bonus points. Germaine missed out on the sprint by merely 0.007 of a second; Arndt by only 0.03.

 

DOUBLES

When we last saw the Austrian doubles sled of Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, they finished in fourth place, just outside the Olympic medals in South Korea. They watched as their compatriots, Peter Penz and Georg Fischler took the silver medal and then anchored a bronze medal in the Olympic team relay.

But Penz and Fischler have retired. They took their farewell trip down their home track prior to the race dressed in traditional Austrian garb of lederhosen, with a sled dredged up from the 70s, but minus a stein of bier.

Steu and Koller, now using parts of the sled of Penz and Fischler, then took over. They watched numerous sleds encounter major problems, including the top German teams of 2018 Olympic bronze medal winners Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, as well as double Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.

The Austrians dominated with the day’s two fastest heats, winning in 1:19.476 and snatching their first World Cup podium and victory.

Eggert, who suffered a fractured fibula in pre-season training in Oberhof, raced nevertheless. His sled collected the silver medal 0.18 of a second behind Steu and Koller. The bronze medal team of Russians Vladislav Yuzhakov and his new partner Iurii Prokhorov were timed in 1:19.758, also marking their first time on the World Cup podium.

Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., are the lone USA Luge doubles tandem competing in the World Cup this winter and began training as a unit just six weeks ago. The top 10 result is commendable, given that brief amount of time, and the fact that Mazdzer is also training as a singles athlete after his crowning achievement in South Korea.

“This time around I’m really trying to focus on transitioning between both singles and doubles, and the (Igls) start is pretty tricky. So I’m really trying to focus on that,” commented Mazdzer. “I’m just trying to have a lot of fun and really enjoy being in a new scenario, warming up in different places, different competitions. It’s definitely challenging. I take it really serious, but at the end of the day, I do really enjoy the sport.”

Their individual runs were eighth and 11th best, leading to an overall time of 1:20.148. Their final leg was delayed after an Italian sled crashed in curve 10, leading to a five-minute pause that forced Mazdzer and Terdiman to hit the re-set button.

Said 2014 and 2018 Olympian Terdiman, “It’s like icing the kicker in football.”

The World Cup tour will return for Sunday racing in Igls with men’s singles opening the session at 4:15 AM ET, followed by the sprint events in all three disciplines.

Live streaming is offered all season on OlympicChannel.com (viewers may have to register to access the feed). Post-race coverage is also set for Nov. 24 on The Olympic Channel from 4-5:30 PM ET, followed by NBC Sports Network Nov. 24 from 10-11 PM ET.

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