Summer Britcher (top left) raced to her second straight silver medal Saturday in Koenigssee
KOENIGSSEE, Germany – Sochi and Pyeongchang Olympian Summer Britcher led the United States with a World Cup luge silver medal on Saturday in heavily accumulating snowfall in southern Germany.
Britcher had a brilliant final trip down the oldest layout in the world which runs along the base of Watzmann Mountain. The American, ninth after one leg, recorded the second-best final run.
Brittney Arndt, in her first World Cup race in Koenigssee, struggled in the initial run, but recovered with the fifth fastest final leg. Arndt was 19th, while Emily Sweeney followed in 21st place.
If Currier and Ives were a doubles team, they may have had a beautiful chance to challenge Germany in Saturday’s racing in Koenigssee.
But the spectacular winter setting that arrived this week – appropriate for the 12 Days of Christmas - was not welcomed by the field of doubles and women athletes that were forced to snowplow down this unique and demanding course.
A weather system that provided white gold for winter sports tourism in Koenigssee/Berchtesgaden, was viewed with disdain by these racers for the conditions that snowfall creates. Today was a classic example.
The snow created a desire to keep the sled in the middle of the track and away from the snow banks along the sidewalls. Easier said than done in Koenigssee, where the upper S turns, bent straightaway, 360-degree Kriesel (circle) turn and more features await.
USA Luge’s lone doubles team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman, after a sprint race silver medal in Lake Placid three weeks ago, coped as best as possible with a pair of good runs. They were ninth in the Bavarian snow fest.
“Today was a great win for karma,” commented Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa. “I think the conditions, the way things turned out, were incredibly fair.”
Britcher’s two-heat time of 1 minute, 45.391 seconds provided her career best result in Koenigssee and her first podium result on the iconic track that is celebrating its 50th birthday. She said the achievement, however, was unexpected.
“Normally the snow does not help me out,” said the five-time World Cup winner. “From the beginning of the week, I kind of wrote off this race already. I said, the weather is out of my hands. I’m going to have fun this week and enjoy sliding. There’s nothing I can do about it snowing. If it snows and puts me far back in the race, that’s totally out of my hands. I was actually expecting to do better if we had clean, cold ice, so this morning when it was snowing again and it was going to be snowing all day, again, I said just go out there and have two good runs. I was not expecting the weather conditions today to help me.”
The weather also impacted mid-week training, where a session that included Germany was wiped out and rescheduled. Britcher and head coach Bill Tavares took umbrage with the decision.
“One of the German training groups (women and men) was offered an extra training run which was an incredibly unfair advantage,” remarked Britcher.
The training session was curtailed due to weather, but she added that upon inspection of the training times, the fairness of the conditions was upheld.
Nevertheless, Germany persisted and their singles athletes were awarded a sixth training run for the week, when the rest of the field received the requisite number of five. As a result, Tavares protested the maneuver at the team captains meeting that evening, a point that was omitted from the minutes.
“Not really sure how that (extra training) happened,” added Britcher. “But it’s a win for karma today and I hope karma shows up tomorrow.”
On race day, the combination of falling snow and start position produced an unusual leaderboard in the first leg.
Ironically, the usually dominant German women were virtually invisible. Germany’s double Olympic champion and World Cup leader Natalie Geisenberger, on her home track, was back in 16th place at the intermission. She had medaled in her 25 previous starts. Teammates Dajana Eitberger were 13th; Tatjana Huefner 21st; current World Cup runner-up Julia Taubitz was sixth. In the end all but Taubitz were non-factors.
At the top after one run was Ekaterina Katnikova of Russia; unknown Lisa Schulte of Austria third; Kendija Aparjode of Latvia fourth – all in unlikely positions. But when those competitors raced at the end of the second run field, the tables turned once again, producing a second gold medal for Taubitz. She finished 0.4 ahead of Britcher with Austrian Olympian Hannah Prock, daughter of three-time Olympic medalist and director of the Austrian program, Markus Prock, collecting the bronze, 0.6 of a second from Taubitz. It was Hannah Prock’s first-ever World Cup podium.
The women’s World Cup standings have now tightened considerably. Geisenberger still heads the field with 612 points, but Taubitz has closed to 595 on the strength of seven straight podium results. Britcher, third in the final 2018 World Cup rankings, remains third with 415 points. Her silver extended USA Luge’s streak of medal-winning weekends this season to four.
Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., is in ninth place on the year despite skipping the first two events. Arndt, of Park City, Utah, is in 12th place. All three U.S. lugers are in the A seed, making them exempt from qualifying.
For the first time since 2009, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt did not win an international race in Koenigssee. The local stalwarts were upended by teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken.
In steady snowfall, the interlopers from the Thuringia region of Germany, defending World and World Cup champions, opened a 0.3 of a second advantage over the four-time Olympic gold medalists from Bavaria. Eggert and Benecken maintained the margin in a flawless second run that occurred as the weather devolved into a pounding snowfall.
The winners, 2018 Olympic bronze medalists, totaled 1:41.851. Wendl and Arlt, two-time Olympic gold medal winners in both doubles and the team relay, posted the best final run time and settled for second place in 1:42.157.
Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, fourth in Pyeongchang, rallied in the final leg to collect the bronze medal in 1:42.683.
Mazdzer and Terdiman, with the exception of a bobble in the second run, showed their precise driving skills over two attempts on a track where they surrendered years of experience to the contenders in the field.
“I am personally really happy with that result,” said Mazdzer, 2018 Olympic silver medalist, of Saranac Lake, N.Y. “Koenigssee is a tough track for doubles and yet we still managed to take a ninth place finish here. We still have work to do on our start, and pretty much every run we’re diagnosing different issues in terms of our paddles, body positions and cadence. But once we are in the sled, things seem to work out really well. Although there’s a new challenge every run, we are up for the task and fix the many mistakes that we have by the first competition run.
“Our only issue came with two corners to go where I didn’t build enough pressure in Echo (turn) and we had a small skid that sent us late into the next corner. It cost us a little bit of time but the run was solid before that, so we had enough momentum to not give up any ground.”
After 10 years apart, the Americans only rejoined on a doubles sled on October 15 in Lake Placid and are taking the long view to 2022.
“Chris and I had two very consistent, solid runs today,” added Terdiman, a 2014 and 2018 Olympian from Berwick, Pa. “I’m very happy with our result as Koenigssee hasn’t been very favorable to me in the past. The goal was to finish in the top 10 all season and we are sticking to that quite well. The weather definitely played a role today, but that’s what you get with an outdoor winter sport.
“The (long, flat) start is incredibly important here in Koenigssee, and with Chris and myself teaming up so late in the summer, we didn’t really have any time to practice before the traveling season began. I’m looking forward to getting some start training in over the next few years - at least as much as we can since we live in different states - and really showing what we can do in the coming seasons leading into Beijing. Don’t forget, this is a big picture game, and we’ve just starting painting.”
Their ninth-place time of 1:43.324 enabled them to break a tie in the World Cup standings and now gives them fifth place overall by themselves.
After winning their third straight race and fourth in seven starts including sprint events, Eggert and Benecken are atop the World Cup list with 625 points. Wendl and Arlt are tied with Steu and Koller for second place at 516 points. Mazdzer and Terdiman have 350.
Live streaming will continue for the duration of the campaign on OlympicChannel.com. Race time Sunday is 4 AM ET with women’s singles followed by the team relay.
Broadcast (cable) coverage from Koenigssee is slated for the Olympic Channel on Jan. 5 from 6-7:30 PM ET, Jan. 6 from 5-6 PM ET. NBC Sports Network will present a one-hour show on Jan. 5 from 6 PM ET.
(Photo and video courtesy Jayson Terdiman)