Sweeney second in Whistler sprint and now third in overall World Cup

By Sandy Caligiore | Dec. 14, 2019, 9:35 p.m. (ET)

Emily Sweeney, left, takes silver in the Whistler BMW Sprint Cup

WHISTLER, B.C. – Emily Sweeney of USA Luge kept the momentum going Saturday night at the Whistler Sliding Center, as the 2018 Olympian picked up another BMW World Cup sprint medal and elevated herself to third place in the overall Viessmann World Cup rankings. She was runner-up to Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova by just 0.04 of a second to close the 2019 portion of the World Cup schedule.

In five starts this season, Sweeney, of Lake Placid, has raced to three medals - bronze and silver in sprint racing, and a traditional two-heat silver medal. It’s the continuation of a remarkable comeback from her crash in the final run of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Last year she broke through with a World Championship bronze medal.

Teammates Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer landed in sixth and ninth places, in their respective sprints, while Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman were 11th in the World Cup doubles race that began the day. Mazdzer and Terdiman followed that with a 10th place in the sprint cup.

Summer Britcher, Ashley Farquharson, Brittney Arndt and Jonny Gustafson placed outside the top 15 in Friday’s singles and did not qualify for the sprint cup’s bonus points.

Above: Tucker West at the start

SPRINT RACING

The format of the sprint creates the flying start concept where athletes pull from their normal start heights, while the timing does not begin for a distance down the track.

Sweeney sat at the head of the leader’s box until Ivanova, the final competitor, overtook her and completed her weekend sweep of the singles and the sprint. The winner posted a single heat time of 27.839; Sweeney was next in 27.883. World Cup rookie Cheyenne Rosenthal, of Germany, picked up the bronze in 27.904.

Sweeney is now clearly on the move, as she resides in third place until the resumption of the tour in about a month’s time in Altenberg, Germany. The key to her silver medal run may have been in the changing conditions and the willingness to experiment.

“Before the race started, I actually said to Lubo (Mick, assistant coach), ‘Hey, it’s getting cold out there. How much to you want to gamble on this race? He said, let’s do it, so we threw down and it paid off. It was a group effort.”

Ivanova has captured three of the five events and has taken the overall World Cup lead with 397 points. Germany’s Julia Taubitz, after opening the season with a bronze and two gold medals, has slipped to second place with 380 points. She was tied for sixth in the sprint. Sweeney has 303 points.

Britcher, a 2014 and 2018 member of Team USA, dropped from third to sixth overall with 243 points. Her year has been highlighted by a pair of silver medals.

Above: Mazdzer/Terdiman at the Sprint Cup start

West, of Ridgefield, Conn., was less than 0.1 of a second from Austrian winner Reinhard Egger. Roman Repilov, the singles gold medalist Friday, finished second, with another Austrian, Jonas Mueller, third. A member of the last two Olympic teams, West is working his way back to the upper echelon of luge racing. He’ll go to the holiday break in third place overall, behind Repilov (430) and Mueller (376). The U.S. luge racer scored consecutive silver medals in Lake Placid and has 286 overall World Cup points.

Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, is fighting through his physical ailments. The Saranac Lake, N.Y. racer’s ninth place time was less than 0.14 from Egger. Mazdzer is eighth on the campaign, while Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., is ranked 16th.

The doubles sprint could be no closer as the three medal-winning sleds were separated by merely 0.004 of a second. The podium was identical to the earlier doubles competition as Germany’s Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken completed the sweep, relegating teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt to second place. Russia’s Vsevolod Kashkin and Konstantin Korshunov took the bronze medal.


DOUBLES

The final result might have said 11th place, but for Mazdzer and Terdiman it was a victory as they continue to dial in a new sled. It’s been a painstaking process – over the first two weeks of World Cup racing, Mazdzer added an elbow injury to his list, and the twosome opted at the last moment in Lake Placid to return to their previous sled, which was actually built for the retired Olympian Matt Mortensen and Terdiman.

The two runs they put down on Saturday afternoon, after racing to the bronze medal in Nations Cup qualifying on Thursday, gives them reason to believe that this is their machine, as Terdiman has said, “for the long haul.”

“We had some great, clean runs today in the World Cup,” said the two-time Olympian from Berwick, Pa. “We can walk away from Whistler looking forward to the second half of the season. We know the sled project is heading in the right direction. We just need to be patient. We’d like to wish everyone a great holiday break.”

Mazdzer and Terdiman stood in 13th place after one leg, improved two spots in the last heat, and wound up 0.6 of a second from Eggert and Benecken.

The gold medal winners overtook Wendl and Arlt in the final run with a track record 38.291 seconds. The top sleds proved that at Whistler, a strong start and no errors over the flat upper section is crucial. From there, the top teams must carry as much speed as possible through curve 11, then slide a precise line through the 14th turn, followed by acceleration through turns 15 and 16, creating uphill speed to the finish.

In achieving the victory, Eggert and Benecken are now within two gold medals of their teammates for the all-time World Cup lead - the Tobis, as they are known, have 43 titles. The winners clocked 1:16.644 on Whistler’s short track. Wendl and Arlt, who own four Olympic gold medals, were timed in 1:16.703, with the Russian duo taking bronze in 1:16.878.

The Russians were back in fifth place at the break, but uncorked the third best final run to overtake the German sled of Robin Geueke and David Gamm as well as Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, whose problems in the 16th and final curve of the track cost them a place on the podium.

In the overall World Cup doubles standings, Eggert and Benecken take a 30-point advantage to the Christmas holidays over Wendl and Artl. Steu and Koller are a distant third. The Americans are in 17th place.

The race was noteworthy for the sport as Canadian women Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless raced against the men. They made it into the field through the Nations Cup. The 16-year-olds, youngest in the field, now set their eyes on the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in St. Moritz. Nash was inspired to try luge as a result of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

SCHEDULE AND COVERAGE

The doubles second heat will be covered on the Olympic Channel at 11:30 PM ET Saturday. NBC Sports Network will air additional coverage at 10 PM ET on Sunday.

RESULTS AND STANDINGS