OBERHOF, Germany – Summer Britcher had her own Super Sunday.
The 25-year-old American rose from fifth place after the first heat to claim a World Cup luge bronze medal on the short, but demanding track in Oberhof, and then raced the lead leg in the team relay pacing USA Luge to the silver medal. The two-time Olympian had the second fastest final run to secure her fourth Viessmann World Cup singles medal of the season. She is currently ranked sixth in the overall standings.
It was the American’s first podium result of the season in the team relay, where they were edged by just 0.07 of a second by Germany. Once again, the team was bolstered by fast reaction times, namely Tucker West who led the men’s field. The doubles team of Chris Mazdzer/Jayson Terdiman would normally follow suit, but Mazdzer’s neck issues have affected his reaction. Nevertheless, the duo gained valuable time down the wet Oberhof course to secure the medal.
“It was nice to have things go a little bit our way in this race,” said U.S. Head Coach Bill Tavares. “Summer had two solid runs. We’ve been struggling to make sure we get good consistency.”
Although Saturday’s rain continued into Sunday, temperatures were a bit colder than Saturday, giving athletes up and down the start list a fighting chance. This was evident in both races. Britcher went late in the second singles heat and medaled, while the U.S. relay team raced early.
The American foursome combined for three consistent runs and a total of 2 minutes, 22.748 seconds. Six teams later, Germany edged the U.S. in 2:22.678.
The Park City racers, Ashley Farquharson and Brittney Arndt, were also in the USA Luge singles lineup. They finished 13th and 16th, respectively. Meanwhile, Emily Sweeney, the 2019 World Championship bronze medalist, withdrew after the first heat once again and will return to Lake Placid to address a neck problem stemming from the Olympic crash two years ago in South Korea. She may do some training on Lake Placid ice in the coming weeks.
Sunday was noteworthy for both Germany and the U.S. The former team won for the first time this season, while the latter scored its first medal of the 2019-2020 season in this discipline. The gold medal gave Germany all four victories over the weekend. But the U.S. runner-up finish, coupled with Britcher’s earlier bronze medal, came at a perfect time with the World Championships fast approaching.
“Today was just another one of those days where all three legs of our team laid down a great run, especially Summer, with her amazing performance all day, and we found ourselves on a podium once again,” said Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., whose affinity for the team relay knows no bounds. “Being within 0.1 of the German team is insane to me, especially here in Oberhof. Historically, this is the track they absolutely dominate and making the race for gold so close gives all of us a great confidence boost heading into World Championships in Sochi.
“I know Chris and I still have work to do to get ourselves at peak performance, primarily due to health issues and lack of repetition. But I believe that if we are able to work things out, we have a chance to do special things on the two-seater.”
A healthy Mazdzer, giving their sled its normal top reaction time instead of today’s seventh best, gives USA Luge gold medal potential because the rest of the puzzle, today, was in place. When firing on all cylinders, this team has the best reaction times in the field, with special credit to West, who struggled with Saturday’s first men’s singles run. But he came back with the fourth quickest final heat, and brought that feeling with him to the team relay.
“We were a little slow out of the gate but the bottom was good and that’s what matters,” stated the 2018 Olympic silver medalist from Saranac Lake, N.Y.
“These boys are being modest. They crushed it,” countered Britcher. “They haven’t had a ton of training this year. They missed out on a few competitions, so to come back strong, throw down a run that keeps us on the podium, they’re solid.”
The same could be said for Britcher.
“I had an amazing run,” said of her opening leg. “It’s so much fun to race in the team relay, especially when you have a great team behind you, and I had that with these boys here. I had a ton of fun, a beautiful run, and I’m just lucky I had some teammates that could back it up.”
In winning, Germany moved to the top of the World Cup team relay standings with 315 points, just five points ahead of Italy, which slipped to fifth in the race. Latvia placed third on Sunday, just 0.1 behind Germany. Austria was seventh on the day and occupies third place overall with 291 points. USA Luge improves to sixth on the campaign, having only raced in three of the four team relays to date. The final two team relays of the season are set for late February.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., had a pair runs that totaled 1:22.940, finishing 0.1 of a second from Germany’s first-time winner, Anna Berreiter.
“It’s good to go to the World Championships this way,” commented Tavares. “Oberhof isn’t always the easiest track, but with our training here in the past and the help from the coaching staff, this is a step in the right direction.”
The difficulty and nuances of racing in Oberhof has always presented challenges. Also, the short course puts pressure on the visiting sliders to be perfect as there is no track length to gain back any lost time. Coaches have an impact in helping their athletes deal with that.
“For one thing, our coaching staff is incredible,” remarked Britcher. “We have the four best coaches in the world here in Oberhof with us. That’s helpful to start with, and I was just having fun sliding. I knew I had some time in my first run. I just stayed calm. I focused on myself and let it rip.”
Brought up from the junior ranks as a result of the maternal leaves of Natalie Geisenberger and Dajana Eitberger, Berreiter has made the most of her opportunity. The victory came on a track that she said, afterward, is not her favorite. Berreiter had the fastest times of each heat and posted 1:22.836 for the gold medal and a hero’s welcome in the finish area by the German coaching staff. Prior to this season, Berreiter finished third the past two years in the Junior World Cup standings.
Russian Tatyana Ivanova was second by just 0.04 of a second but claimed the lead in the overall World Cup battle with 822 points. Ivanova overtook Julia Taubitz, of Germany, by only 12 points with two races remaining at the end of February. Taubitz was fourth on Sunday and upped her World Cup point total to 810. Ivanova has eight podium results to date, four of them victories, while Taubitz has won five times in 10 starts. Third place on the season belongs to another Russian, Victoriia Demchenko with 592. Britcher’s sixth place total is 463 despite missing two of the three sprint cup point bonanzas.
Sweeney, of Lake Placid, is ninth on the year with 381 World Cup points. Farquharson is 16th with 235, while Arndt ranks 20th with 145.
USA LUGE SIDETRACKS
International Training Week for World Championships in Sochi takes place Tuesday to Sunday, Feb. 4-9. Race schedule is Feb. 14-16. There will be 19 national federations and 93 sleds participating.
The last of four TV shows from Oberhof airs on NBC Sports Network Sunday 5 PM ET. Fans can also catch all the action in spectacular high definition via NBC Sports online at NBCSports.com/Live, or through the NBC Sports app which is available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire. Additional coverage will be available on OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.
U.S. athletes scored three silver medals Saturday in Youth A World Cup racing in Winterberg. Matt Greiner improved from fourth to second in singles; Maya Chan/Reannyn Weiler and Sam Day/Sam Eckert completed the run of silvers. Weather was inclement causing the doubles races to be curtailed to one heat each. All five were members of the U.S. Youth Olympic Team. On Friday, the doubles team of Sean Hollander and Michael O’Gara raced to fourth place, missing a medal by just 0.15 of a second over two heats. They came back Saturday and improved to the bronze medal. The Americans achieved these results in a downpour.
In an abundance of caution, the FIL and the IBSF, in conjunction with Beijing Olympic organizers, decided to delay the pre-homologation of the 2022 Olympic track due to the threat of the coronavirus. This was to have occurred next month. New dates have yet to be announced. Summer Britcher will represent USA Luge in the first test of the new track.
The USA Luge Challenge is set to visit Titletown, adjacent to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., Feb. 15-16. The final event of the winter, the Casella USA Luge Challenge, will occur at Titus Mountain in Malone, N.Y. on March 8. These events are free and open to luge enthusiasts of all ages. Youngsters, in particular, are encouraged to give it a try.