Britcher 4th, Gustafson 7th, Mazdzer/Terdiman 9th in Igls World Cup sprints

By Sandy Caligiore | Nov. 25, 2018, 10:57 a.m. (ET)

Above: Summer Britcher, left, in the leader's box

IGLS, Austria – USA Luge placed three in the top 10 Sunday in World Cup sprint racing as the opening weekend came to a close just outside Innsbruck, Austria.

Once again in warm conditions, 2014 and 2018 Olympian Summer Britcher led the effort finishing just off the podium in fourth place; Jonny Gustafson had his career-best World Cup result taking seventh, while the doubles team of Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and twice Olympian Jayson Terdiman were ninth just six weeks after re-forming their team from junior days.

The sprint format, restricted to the top finishers from the earlier discipline races, incorporates the “flying start” where athletes pull from their normal start height, but the timing does not begin for approximately 100 meters down the course.

Men’s singles started the final day in the Austrian Tyrol with Gustafson 15th. It marked his second-best World Cup race. Mazdzer was 17th, missing the top 15 for the sprint field by just 0.03 of a second, while two-time Olympian Tucker West took 19th.

Britcher is tied for fourth place overall after the first two events of the new World Cup campaign; Gustafson is 12th; Mazdzer and Terdiman are ninth in doubles.

World Cup action resumes Friday and Saturday at Whistler, B.C., with the team relay making its season debut on the 2010 Olympic track. It will also mark the return of Emily Sweeney, who has been training in Park City, Utah and Whistler in recent weeks.

Beyond Whistler, the tour travels to Calgary, Alberta and then Lake Placid Dec. 15-16 in consecutive weeks.

MEN’S SINGLES:

Germany’s Johannes Ludwig, the Pyeongchang bronze medalist, raced to a gold medal Sunday morning in the traditional two-heat event. The unassuming veteran used his typical strong start and maintained that momentum down the Igls course in both runs. Ludwig won by nearly 0.1 of a second over Italian Dominik Fischnaller, claiming his second career gold medal.

The winner clocked 1 minute, 40.294 seconds. Bronze medalist Wolfgang Kindl made the move of the weekend on his home course. The man who was double World Champion on this track two seasons ago, drifted back to 18th place after his first attempt. But he lit up the field with the fastest run of the day, rocketing up to third place, 0.14 from Ludwig.

Kindl relegated 2018 Olympic champion and teammate David Gleirscher to fourth place, just 0.1 of a second from the podium.

First heat co-leader with Ludwig, Semen Pavlichenko of Russia, settled for fifth place, with double Olympic champion Felix Loch, of Germany, sixth.

The overall World Cup top three are Kindl, Ludwig and Fischnaller.

Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., had a combined 1:40.800 as he continues to learn the nuances of European tracks.

Mazdzer’s 17th place time was 1:40.829; West, in 19th, clocked 1:40.909.

SPRINT RACING:

Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., continues to show that she is on par with the top racers in the world. She has a team-leading five World Cup singles wins to her credit.

In the sprint Sunday, she was fourth behind the German trio of Natalie Geisenberger who swept the two weekend races, Julia Taubitz and Dajana Eitberger. The American’s start speed was faster than the three ahead of her.

"I'm pretty happy with my result today," said Britcher. "I was really gunning for that podium but with a mistake after the first curve, fourth place feels pretty good. I've been looking forward to this race for a long time now. It's the first real race since the Olympics, and after crashing in the Igls Nations Cup last year, I'll take a sixth and a fourth place finish with a smile. I'm looking forward to building on these results in the next few weeks."

Geisenberger, Vancouver and Pyeongchang Olympic gold medalist, had a margin of victory of just 0.02 over Taubitz, who did not qualify for last year’s Olympic Games. Eitberger, the 2018 silver medalist, was 0.05 off the pace.

As was the case with Britcher, Gustafson was the lone USA Luge sprint competitor. He, too, had faster start speed than Kindl, Russian Alexandr Gorbatcevich and Loch who medaled in that order. Nevertheless. Gustafson made the opportunity count with his finest result to date.

"I'm incredibly excited about this first race," remarked the Massena, N.Y. resident. "This was my best finish ever and my first time qualifying for a sprint cup. My sprint cup was obviously a best since it was my first one, however I did not expect to be in the top eight. I've been going into this season with a completely different and much better mentality than last season, and so far it's paying off. I'm really looking forward to the rest of this year."

The Mazdzer-Terdiman team gained time down the course in the doubles sprint, posting split times that were ranked 11th, 10th and ninth at the finish. They continue to get comfortable as a “new” team after last sliding together in their junior days 10 years ago. For Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., riding higher on a sled that responds slower than a singles sled, is an adjustment. For Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., his adjustment is coming in the form of racing with his third partner since 2014.

“This weekend was a great start,” said Mazdzer. “There’s lots to do and learn from, but it was a good first step for doubles.”

"Going into this weekend with no expectations for Chris and myself, I leave Igls a very happy man," added Terdiman. "Coming into this weekend with one-third of the preseason run-count compared to my international opponents - not to mention Chris’s absence from the doubles discipline for the last 10 years - we entered the World Cup opener at a serious disadvantage. To find ourselves finishing in the top 10 twice is awesome. It's a great starting point for our newly rejoined partnership. We're looking forward to getting back to North America and to some tracks we have even more familiarity with. This is going to be a long process, and it’s beginning at a much better point than either of us could have expected."

Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller completed the weekend sweep in taking the sprint gold medal. These were their first two career World Cup victories; they seem poised to continue the nation’s doubles legacy started over 20 years ago with the Schiegl cousins, then the Linger brothers and most recently the unrelated Penz-Fischler twosome.

Russians Vladislav Yuzhakov and new partner Iurii Prokhorov were second, followed by Germany’s two-time Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.

The next sprint races will occur in three weeks in Lake Placid.

The Whistler World Cup races will begin Friday at 5 PM ET and Saturday at 12:40 PM ET.

Live streaming is offered all season onOlympicChannel.com (viewers may have to register to access the feed). Post-race coverage is also set for Nov. 30 on The Olympic Channel from 8:30 – 9 PM ET, 9:15 – 10:15 PM ET, and Saturday from 4 -5 PM ET. NBC Sports Network will present a two-hour show on Sunday from 7 - 9 PM ET.

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