Sweeney 4th in abbreviated World Cup race as heavy snowfall impacts schedule

By Sandy Caligiore | Feb. 03, 2019, 10:24 a.m. (ET)


Above: Emily Sweeney in the Altenberg outrun during her one and only run in the 2019 World Cup

ALTENBERG, Germany – In a race affected by heavy snowfall, World Championship bronze medalist Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., plowed her way to fourth place Sunday in a World Cup luge race in Altenberg.

The weather was much appreciated by the aficionados at nearby Skilifte Rehefeld, but not so much at the DKB Eiskanal, site of the women’s singles race and team relay, the latter of which was canceled. FIL Media Director Wolfgang Harder reported that motorists were stranded in Altenberg as area roads were declared closed.

The luck of the track sweep was part of the story and came into play at this former East Germany location in the Ore Mountains adjacent to the Czech Republic.

Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., was victimized by a late start number and the wrong end of the sweep. Britcher jovially made the best of it and was 20th.

“I definitely got lucky with my start number,” said Sweeney. “Being in Nations Cup (qualifying) this week, I had an earlier start, so that’s what allowed me to kind of get up there. My frustrations from the race come from the sweeping. I think it was kind of uneven and unfair, so I’m a little disappointed in that, but here we are.

“The team relay is canceled so it’s a bummer we didn’t get to compete together as a team, but we’ll be there next week.”

With the weather-related developments, USA Luge’s streak of six consecutive medal-winning weekends came to an end.

Italy’s Sandra Robatscher, the niece of six-time Olympic medalist and team coach Armin Zoeggeler, took advantage of the sweep with an outstanding run down the Altenberg track, and won the gold medal. It was her first career World Cup podium result, and her team’s first win of the season.

Robatscher, a Friday Nations Cup qualifier, benefitted from the track sweep just prior to her run and made no mistakes with the opportunity. She clocked a single run time of 53.932 seconds. With the conditions, it was nearly two seconds off the track record set by German Natalie Geisenberger in 2017.

The undermanned course crew found it difficult to keep up with the snowfall. Geisenberger, World Cup leader and four-time Olympic gold medalist, also raced immediately after a sweep. Despite being the final starter in the field, the timely sweep coupled with her abilities, enabled Geisenberger to overcame the weather as she took the silver medal, 0.09 behind Robatscher.

Victoriia Demchenko, of Russia, whose father Albert won three Olympic medals and now coaches the team, took the bronze medal in 54.178. Sweeney was next in 54.184. In a brilliant return season after her crash in Pyeongchang, the fourth-place result was Sweeney’s fourth of the season, all approximately 0.01 of a second from the podium. In Altenberg, she was exactly 0.006 behind Demchenko. A slight foot tap on the ice prior to curve 13 may have been the difference.

Above: Summer Britcher at the start of a snow-laden 2019 Altenberg World Cup

Britcher, her teammate and two-time Olympian, and third in the overall World Cup rankings, was the third sled after a sweep and was then delayed at the start.

“The track crew was understaffed, leaving half of the track un-swept for the entire race,” remarked Britcher. “This means instead of being first, second or third after the sweep, later athletes were really 20th, 25th or 27th after the sweep, leading to an absurd race.

“At the handles no amount of frustration or complaining will make the track faster or more fair, so you might as well make the best of it in that moment. I can only hope that the FIL (International Luge Federation) ensures that the track organizers are capable of hosting a World Cup event before granting races to underprepared tracks in the future.”

Britcher wasn’t the lone elite racer hampered by the conditions. Geisenberger’s teammates were also at the mercy of the weather, the sweep and their start number. Julia Taubitz and 2018 Olympic silver medalist Dajana Eitberger were 24th and 25th, respectively. On the other hand, Tatyana Huefner, another German, started after the sweep and took seventh place.

The current World Cup rankings, however, remain unchanged with Geisenberger ahead by 131 points with three races remaining in Oberhof and Sochi. Taubitz, on the podium in seven of nine races, is second overall with Britcher third. Sweeney, in less than a full season, is ninth.

The next stop on the World Cup tour takes the athletes to Oberhof Feb. 9-10, and will include another team relay.

Broadcast coverage from Altenberg, before and after the Super Bowl, is scheduled for the Olympic Channel Feb. 3 from 3-4 PM ET; and NBC Sports Network Feb. 3 from 10 PM ET to midnight.