IGLS, Austria – On another warm day in the Innsbruck Olympic region, Austria and Italy, using home ice advantage on Sunday, dominated the men’s singles and team relay races as the opening weekend of the Viessmann World Cup luge season concluded.
Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer began his day with a 10th place result in singles. Later, with doubles teammate Jayson Terdiman, they anchored a sixth-place effort in the team relay. Mazdzer, a three-time Olympian, is fighting through neck, shoulder and elbow issues that have slowed his starts. Sunday’s races illustrated those struggles. Terdiman, also, has been dealing with an elbow problem.
“My elbow is not in a good place,” stated Mazdzer. “I gave it my all on my first start today, but it was super-sore for the second start and, subsequently, the relay.
“I’m definitely not where I want to be physically, but mentally I’ve never felt better when it comes to sliding, especially in singles my confidence is high right now. I’m making all the right decisions, and I even feel that in doubles. In the pre-season, when we were in Lillehammer on the old sled, I had never slid that well in doubles my entire life.”
Sochi and Pyeongchang Olympian Tucker West opened his season with a 17th place result, while teammate Jonny Gustafson was 25th.
Mazdzer and Terdiman were joined on the U.S. relay team by Ashley Farquharson, making her World Cup debut in the event, and West.
In men’s singles, Austria-Russia-Italy comprised the podium, while in the team relay it was Italy-Austria-Germany on the 1964 and 1976 Olympic course that serves as the training base for the Tyrolean teams.
In a season-opening race that was reminiscent of Saturday’s women’s event, Russian Roman Repilov nearly won the event after sitting in 16th place at the intermission. Compatriot Tatyana Ivanova emerged from 13th Saturday to win on softer ice. Repilov came close - he wound up as the silver medalist to Austria’s first time World Cup winner and Sprint World Champion Jonas Mueller.
On his home track, Mueller, the first heat leader, put down a total time of 1 minute, 41.015 seconds. Repilov, a recent World Cup overall champion and twice junior world champion, finished 0.14 off the pace. Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller took third in 1:41.207. Athletes from Austria and Italy grabbed four of the top five spots.
A second Russian, Alexsandr Gorbatcevich, was headed to the podium after stopping in second place at the mid-point, but he struggled in the final heat and ultimately crashed through the finish line.
In a season where Germany’s dominance in men’s and women’s singles is being challenged, the country’s top placings were sixth, eighth and 12th, led by triple Olympic gold medalist Felix Loch. Teammate Johannes Ludwig, 2018 Olympic gold and bronze medalist, dominated the start of both legs and the intermediate times, too, but had major issues ending his first heat and was back in 15th place. An eighth best final leg was little consolation.
Mazdzer’s attitude, speed and sliding are that of an Olympic medalist and World Cup winner, but it’s the physical ailments that are holding him back as evidenced by start times that are putting him at a disadvantage.
“I’m really happy with 10th place, especially since my starts are pretty far behind,” he stated. “I’m pumped. In singles, I really don’t have a lot of runs this year. Honestly, probably around 20, but I’m feeling really good. Whistler (training) was awesome. Lake Placid (training) was awesome. I had five runs here this week. Sliding feels phenomenal on the singles sled right now.”
Case in point: the three-time Olympian from Saranac Lake, N.Y. had the 21st and 25th-ranked starts. He finished eighth in the opening run. His total finish time was 0.46 of a second behind Mueller.
West, of Ridgefield, Conn., improved three places in the final heat. It was his second run time that put him in the team relay. The 2014 and 2018 Olympian clocked 1:41.747. Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., the Norton National Champion three weeks ago, took 25th place in 1:42.216.
The Italian quartet of singles racers Andrea Voetter and Fischnaller, with the doubles tandem of Ivan Nagler and Fabian Malleier, had the cleanest of runs down the Olympic track and were rewarded with a gold medal. Each of the three sleds were ranked second in their discipline. Their total time of 2:09.638 topped Austria by just 0.02 of a second.
The home team sported a new look in the team relay, as they were led in singles by relative newcomers Lisa Schulte and Mueller. The race was theirs to win until the doubles team of Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller dropped their feet going around the start curve costing them those precious fractions of a second.
Germany got off to a rousing start as Julia Taubitz, co-bronze medalist 24 hours earlier, raced to the lead, but then watched Loch and the doubles team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken give away the trophy. The 9-10 curve combination victimized many sleds this weekend – theirs included - with Eggert and Benecken surviving the exit on one steel.
The Americans finished 0.65 from Italy. Farquharson put down the fourth best women’s leg. West got out of the gate in his usual fastest reaction time of the field, but time slipped away down the track. Mazdzer and Terdiman, traditionally the quickest of the doubles teams on the reaction, were seventh ranked in their getaway, further illustrating the physical problems that have beset them.
SCHEDULE AND COVERAGE
Broadcast coverage on NBC Sports Network is slated for Nov. 24 from 4:30-5:30 PM ET. Additional coverage will be provided by Olympic Channel, also on Nov. 24, from 6-7 PM ET. This weekend marked the start of more than 33 hours of coverage on the NBC television platforms.
HOME FOR THANKSGIVING
In a drastic schedule departure for USA Luge, the national team will be in the U.S. for Thanksgiving. Most of the members of this year’s team were juniors when they were last home for this holiday.
At least in 2019, there will be no scrambling to find turkeys, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and the like in Europe. Whom does the team thank for this change? It’s NBC, which has its Winter Champions Series on Saturday, Nov. 30, in conjunction with the USOPC, and wanted to include the race from Lake Placid on that date. After some discussion with the FIL, Lake Placid’s traditional December event was relocated to Thanksgiving weekend, thus satisfying all parties. NBC gets its show; USA Luge gets coverage on the network flagship; there’s massive exposure for the sport; and the team can have an American Thanksgiving in, of all places, America.
Video courtesy of Mark Fairchild