LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – On a sunny and cold day in the northern Adirondacks, Emily Sweeney raced to a Viessmann World Cup luge silver medal Saturday afternoon, leading three in the top 10 for the United States women at the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid.
Sweeney, a 2018 Olympian and 2019 World Championship bronze medalist, recorded the second fastest times of each heat, including a track record that stood briefly in the second run before a national television audience on NBC and Team USA’s Winter Champions Series. It was a marked return to the top of the rankings after a season opener that, despite fast training, saw her hit walls in the start turn in Igls, Austria. She wound up 24th.
“I’ve been sliding well all fall in the pre-season,” said Sweeney, of Lake Placid. “With that, doing well you’re always critiquing and criticizing and trying to be better, so I’m happy that I learned from last weekend and capitalized on this one.”
Teammate Summer Britcher, a member of the 2014 and 2018 Olympic teams, was fourth after collecting a World Cup silver medal last Saturday in Igls.
Ashley Farquharson, in her rookie season on the tour, continued the stellar start to her career by taking ninth in her initial home race. She was in the hunt for a medal last week and then slid the opening leg for the U.S. in the team relay.
The Lake Placid weekend started with a doubles race that saw Chris Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medal winner, and teammate Jayson Terdiman, nearly execute the perfect gamble. The timing sheet would eventually indicate that the lone U.S. doubles team did not finish, but there was so much more to it than that.
After training during the week with their new sled and struggling with the lack of time on it, they opted to bring out last year’s equipment and promptly rode it to sixth place after one heat, merely 0.001 from fifth place. Their second run was sending them on a mission into the top five when they encountered difficulty in the beginning of curve 13, putting the sled on its side in the Labyrinth mid-section of the track.
Nevertheless, there were no regrets for the American duo.
“With the new sled, we’re playing the long game to February 2022,” said Terdiman, the two-time Olympian from Berwick, Pa., making reference to the next Winter Games. “We knew we were taking a risk, but every run on the other (new) sled was a risk, so why not. The first run was great. It felt like home again.”
“The first run was really good,” added Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y. “This sport really comes down to feeling. It’s the smallest movements that make the biggest difference. In the first run we made some little mistakes; in the second run we really cleaned it up until that moment.”
Julia Taubitz, the new leader of the German women’s team with the temporary departures of Natalie Geisenberger and Dajana Eitberger, registered the two fastest heats, including a track record 43.658 seconds in the final run to defeat Sweeney by 0.06 of a second.
It was a notable comeback for Sweeney in a week’s time, especially since her speed in this week’s training was a concern.
“So I had some talks with my coaches last night and said, ‘Hey, what’s our call,’” stated Sweeney. “Are we changing the equipment? Are we changing our (sled) setup? There are so many variables that we can control, and we stuck to our guns and we said, ‘No’. We made our best guess on what was going to work and we were right.”
Sweeney’s runner-up finish matched her Lake Placid silver medal four years ago when she and Britcher were part of the historic U.S. sweep of the podium, led by Erin Hamlin’s victory.
Taubitz, runner-up last year in both the World Championships and World Cup standings, welcomed the boisterous holiday weekend crowd at Mount Van Hoevenberg and won her third career race in a combined time of 1 minute, 27.484 seconds.
Taubitz is the overall World Cup leader with Britcher currently second and Tatyana Ivanova, of Russia, last week’s winner, in third place after collecting eighth place points on Saturday.
Third place went to Russia’s Victoriia Demchenko in 1:27.706, followed by a disenchanted Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., in 1:27.975.
“I try to base my happiness on how I actually perform, not on my results, because you can never control other people, how they’re doing,” she said. “I had two runs with some pretty big mistakes in them, so even though fourth place is a good spot to be in, I’m pretty unhappy with myself in the way I performed.”
Saturday’s result vaulted Sweeney to a sixth-place tie with Demchenko in the overall standings.
Farquharson, of Park City, Utah, was in the top 10 of both legs and wound up 0.7 from Taubitz. She is 12th in the World Cup rankings.
The fourth member of the U.S. squad, Brittney Arndt, also of Park City, did not finish the Nations Cup qualifying run Friday. Arndt appeared headed to a top three result, but encountered difficulties as she entered the heart-shaped final curves.
The Mazdzer-Terdiman gamble – going back to their old sled – was about six turns from brilliant.
“We were pushing. We were going for it,” commented Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y. “We attempted something I don’t think most people would ever even consider. We put down a new sled today. We’ve been trying to build this brand, new sled the last couple of weeks. It just hasn’t been working out, so last night, Jayson brought out the old sled and was like, ‘What do you think?’ You know what – this is crazy enough that it might work.”
“And it almost did,” added Terdiman. “We hadn’t ridden that sled in over two months and it steers a lot differently than this new project that we’re working on, so we knew we were taking a risk. But every run on the other sled was a risk, so why not?”
With the decision made Friday night, with all the training runs and qualifying concluded, the partners launched themselves into sixth place after one heat, with distinct possibilities of finishing in the top five. Trailing the fifth place Russians by a scant 0.001 of a second entering the second leg, they were definitely working their way to the upper bracket when the labyrinth claimed yet another sled.
Specifically, the public address announcer’s call was turn 13 that sent the sled on its side and dashed their hopes not only for this race but for Sunday’s Sprint World Cup that’s only reserved for the top 15 of the event.
Germany finished 1-2 with the weekly battle now relocating to North America for a few weeks. Four-time Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, in a new sled this season, used near perfect sliding to relegate Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken to second place by 0.18 of a second. The silver medalists’ runs over the ¾ of a mile layout included some critical errors that removed them from gold medal consideration. They were just 0.01 of a second ahead of third place Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller of Austria, who won their second straight bronze medal. The third German team of Robin Geueke and David Gamm were fourth.
Wendl and Arlt were victorious for the 43rd time in their careers; Eggert and Benecken, winners a week ago, are chasing them with 40 wins. The two teams are currently tied in the overall World Cup chase. The Austrians are third.
SCHEDULE AND COVERAGE
Sunday will bring the men’s singles race at 8:20 AM ET, followed by the first of three Sprint World Cups this season. The sprint races are reserved for just the top 15 from the discipline race. All events will be live streamed on OlympicChannel.com.
Broadcast coverage is slated for Dec. 1 on the Olympic Channel starting at 4:30 PM ET. Additional coverage will be provided by NBC Sports Network starting at 5:30 PM ET.