USA Luge racks up medal haul in Lake Placid

By Sandy Caligiore | Dec. 01, 2019, 5:44 p.m. (ET)

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.  – USA Luge Olympian Tucker West executed a brilliant return to the podium Sunday in Lake Placid when he raced to a pair of silver medals on his home track on Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The women’s BMW Sprint World Cup on Sunday produced a 2-3-4 USA finish, with Summer Britcher picking up her second silver medal of the season. Emily Sweeney, after Saturday’s silver in singles, took bronze in the sprint race, and World Cup rookie, Ashley Farquharson, was fourth.

In all, the United States bagged five World Cup medals over the two days. They were only exceeded by Germany’s six.

West, a member of the 2014 and 2018 Olympic teams, set a track record in the morning singles race, staking him to the first heat lead. Despite being overtaken in the final run by Austrian Jonas Mueller, West’s silver medal was a much-needed achievement. His last visit to the Viessmann World Cup podium occurred in Lake Placid two months prior to the Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

“Today, we had track record ice. It was bullet-proof hard,” stated West. “You really had to lay it all out but it seemed to work out. It feels great to be back. It’s been a little bit of a hiatus with speed, so it’s encouraging to see the speed again.”

He came back in the afternoon for another silver in the one-run BMW Sprint World Cup. His day’s work gave him a career total of 10 individual World Cup medals.

Pyeongchang Olympic silver medal winner Chris Mazdzer was seventh in singles – he temporarily held the track record - and fourth in the sprint, battling through physical ailments. Teammate Jonny Gustafson took 15th in singles and a career best tying seventh place in the sprint where he occupied the leader’s box for seven racers.

With the bounty of World Cup points available on Sunday as a result of the sprint races, the Americans did their best to round up as many as possible. The result saw a radical change in the World Cup rankings, with Britcher holding on to second place; Sweeney jumping up to fourth; and Farquharson eighth.

On the men’s side, West is now fourth, Mazdzer is sixth and Gustafson tied for 13th.

MEN

With overnight temperatures around 3 degrees, and a brand-new racing surface in the morning, conditions were ripe for a track record. Roman Repilov’s existing mark was set two years ago, but the Russian, who ended up fourth Sunday, saw that mark lowered nine times in the opening heat.

Mazdzer was among them with a 50.634 seconds time, putting him in fourth place. About 20 minutes later, West claimed the mark with 50.607. At the break, the top four athletes were separated by merely 0.02 of a second.

With a Northeast snow storm and accompanying clouds entering the region, the frigid weather began to relent, leading to slightly slower conditions. The weather change, coupled with some errors from the leaders, produced a repeat winner in Jonas Mueller. The Austrian, who surprised the World Cup in Igls, Austria last week, had the third and fourth best individual heat times, but that was good enough to hold off the Ridgefield, Conn. athlete by 0.02 of a second. Nevertheless, it brought great relief to West.

“Today was the first day I felt good on the sled, to let it run, to do what I used to be able to do,” he said. “The start times are still a little bit slow. There’s still a lot to work on which is exciting for me to see there’s speed with that much to work on.”

Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller was the bronze medal winner, 0.03 from West.

Despite a crash in doubles Saturday, Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., remained undeterred, bouncing back Sunday morning with great acceleration down the Mount Van Hoevenberg course. A last heat mistake, however, dropped him from podium contention.

“It was a cold morning here. It started out really well,” he remarked. “I had an awesome first run. It was the fastest I’d ever gone here by half a second, which in luge, is an eternity. Second run I ran into some issues. That’s on me. I wanted it really bad. I pushed the limits of the sled too much.

“I’m at home. I’m confident. I’m always going to go for the win. Same with doubles. Consistency isn’t quite there. I haven’t made that mistake in so many years, but the track is so good, I’ve never gone this fast. I wasn’t ready for what happened in curve 14 and I missed catching that mistake by just a split second. And when you get thrown into the wall it doesn’t help your time.”

SPRINT

The Sprint World Cup employs the flying start technique. In a one-heat competition reserved for just the top 15 of the discipline event, athletes pull from their respective start positions. However, the timing begins much further down the track.

The women’s race saw Julia Taubitz, of Germany, complete a sweep of her weekend races, in front of Britcher, Sweeney and Farquharson, in that order.

The winner clocked 37.187 as Taubitz, through three of 12 races this season, holds a 40-point advantage over Britcher. The Glen Rock, Pa. luge racer was 0.05 off the pace.

“We’ve always had a strong (women’s) team at the World Cup level since I’ve been in the program,” stated Britcher. “It feels good to know even if you mess up, you’ve got your team right there and you’re going to have the results. Sitting at the handles, knowing that Ashley was sitting in number one was such a good feeling. I was so proud of her. So excited for my run and so excited to see what Emily could do.”

Sweeney, from Lake Placid, was 0.18 from Taubitz, with Farquharson missing her first career medal by 0.08.

“The run itself was good,” reflected Sweeney. “It was a solid run. It wasn’t anything crazy that I was stoked on, but I was very proud that I could put together a clean run. There was a lot of hype, but I knew we had 1-2 down there at the bottom, so I wanted to give us a shot at the sweep. It didn’t happen today but I see so much potential in our women’s team and I’m so excited for that.”

That Farquharson has come close to a World Cup podium in her initial World Cup races has been a most pleasant surprise – even to Farquharson.

“It’s honestly, unreal,” she commented. “It’s just so different than the juniors. I didn’t think it would be this big of a jump, but everyone is so much more excited up here, and the races are so much more fun. Everyone is so pumped. Even if you’re not from the home country, everyone is cheering for you. It’s so supportive. It’s amazing.

“My mindset was I don’t have anything to prove. I’m here racing for the first time. No one knows who I am. I just want to have two clean runs and make them as fast as they can be. If they’re fast, cool. If they’re not, there’s always next race. That’s the attitude I came into this with and it’s paying off.”

West, meanwhile, held the fastest split times, but was edged by Repilov in the men’s sprint by 0.03 of a second. Repilov clocked 32.158 to West’s 32.191. Mueller, the World Cup leader, added bronze to his collection in 32.280.

Mazdzer was fourth, with Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., seventh, tying his previous best World Cup result last season in Igls.

In the doubles sprint event, Andris Sics said it was “old gold”. He and brother Juris, World Cup competitors the past 15 years, finally won their first World Cup event. The achievement occurred after they took three Olympic medals, with one in the Vancouver Games and the other two in Sochi. The four-time Olympians have not only survived the rigors of racing over that time, but an off-season car wreck seven years ago involving Juris that resulted in a broken hip and pelvis and a fractured collarbone.

They edged Germany’s top two teams, with Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken taking silver, 0.008 from the winners. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, Saturday’s doubles gold medalists, were in third place, 0.03 from Sics and Sics.

Eggert and Benecken are atop the World Cup standings, while Wendl and Arlt are second and the Sics brothers improve to third ahead of Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller.

The only U.S. doubles team on the circuit, Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., crashed Saturday, thus eliminating them from the sprint race.

SCHEDULE AND COVERAGE

The Viessmann World Cup tour now takes a short break, with its next races set for Dec. 13-14 at Whistler, B.C. The schedule includes another sprint cup.

Meanwhile, as all the sleds and gear get shipped west, several are headed south for a few days. The German team will visit New York City in the coming days. A handful of Austrians are headed to Florida to play golf, while some of their teammates will stop off in Las Vegas. Even the World Cup’s publicist, Wolfgang Harder, will plant himself in western New York next week to see Niagara Falls and a Buffalo Bills football game. Harder’s nephew, tight end Tyler Kroft, has hooked up Uncle Wolfgang with Bills tickets.

RESULTS AND STANDINGS