KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – On the first day of the 49th Viessmann World Championships near Sochi, USA Luge was led by two-time Olympian Summer Britcher with a seventh-place finish in the women’s sprint competition on the 2014 Olympic track. The event began in ideal winter temperatures after a colorful Opening Ceremony Thursday evening in nearby Rosa Khutor.
A total of three American sleds qualified Friday morning for the sprint races. Ashley Farquharson, in her initial season racing at the sport’s top level, was 12th. Earlier in the afternoon, the lone United States doubles team of Chris Mazdzer/Jayson Terdiman took ninth after qualifying sixth.
“Our preliminary run (Thursday to determine start positions for the two-heat race) was the best run we’ve had throughout our entire time here,” said Terdiman, a member of the 2014 and 2018 Olympic teams. “It was a huge relief to finally have the feeling of a great run from top to bottom. In the sprint finals we were well on our way to what could have been in my opinion a podium finishing run, but a little right to left direction out of corner 14 sent us into the left wall down the straightaway, resulting in a downward skid through 15. The speed we had been building was completely scrubbed away and it cost us dearly.”
The USA Luge men’s team was absent in the sprint final as all three did not advance beyond the qualifying round.
The sprint qualification run for all athletes occurred in the morning, with just the top 15 racing for the medals. The event employs the “flying start” where competitors pull from their usual start heights, but the timing does not begin until further down the course.
The home team, which scored six of 12 World Cup medals here last season, served notice to the field that they would be a force once again. Russia left the Sanki Sliding Center Friday with a sweep of all three gold medals and four of the nine medals distributed. Italy (2), Austria, Latvia and Germany picked up the remainder on day one.
As advertised, Russia, on its home ice, laid down the law in the very first event of the World Championships as the team of Alexsandr Denisev and Vladislav Antonov captured the world sprint doubles title. Two other Russian sleds finished fifth and sixth. The victors won gold in the 2019 World Cup finals in both the sprint and the traditional race.
In executing the victory, they made a sage of Terdiman as the American earlier this season predicted these two would win this event at the Sanki Sliding Center. The surprise was that World Cup leaders and defending sprint World Champions, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, of Germany, were kept off the podium, finishing fourth by a scant 0.001 of a second behind teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y. and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., sixth in qualifying, wound up 0.25 of a second from the Russians.
“The take away from the day is that we have the speed, top speed in the preliminary run and still fourth fastest after our mistakes,” continued Terdiman. “This is happening even with our slower starts because of injuries. I can’t wait until we’re both healthy. On to the doubles race tomorrow.”
While some teams had difficulties in curves 14 and 15, Denisev and Antonov were smooth and clean on their way to a 0.04 victory. The shorter sprint courses leave no room for any errors as there is no time to recover. Their winning time was 31.281 seconds. Another surprise in the event was the silver medal team. Emanuel Rieder and Simon Kainzwaldner of Italy, in just their second year, claimed second place in 31.326, with Wendl and Arlt, after an impressive week of training, settling for the bronze in 31.362. It was the seventh World Championship medal for the storied German team, whose career includes two Olympic gold medals in the two-heat discipline and another two Olympic gold medals in the team relay. Half of that medal haul took place at the Sanki Sliding Center.
Among the teams struggling to find a clean line from top to bottom were the Sics brothers of Latvia. One of the hottest doubles teams entering the premier event of the season, Andris and Juris Sics were en route to the podium until the closing sections of the Olympic course. They drifted down to seventh place.
Ekaterina Katnikova led a gold-silver performance for Russia. Her World Championship crown was Katnikova’s very first career podium result at the elite level. Earlier this season, she collected a pair of World Cup fifth place results in two-heat events and was the 2015 U23 World Champion. Katnikova bested teammate and current World Cup leader Tatyana Ivanova by 0.008 of a second. Ivanova, a winner of 11 World Cup races in her career, had the top split times in the field until the final time. The winner recorded 31.105 to Ivanova’s 31.113. The sprint bronze was taken by Eliza Cauce of Latvia, who trailed Katnikova by only 0.03 of a second.
The 2019 World Championship silver medal winner, Julia Taubitz of Germany, was fourth. Russia put four in the top eight with a pre-race favorite, Victoriia Demchenko, sliding into fifth place.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., entered these World Championships with a pair of fourth place World Championship results and a U23 gold medal next to her name. On Friday, after qualifying 10th fastest, she recorded 31.281 in the finals. Farquharson, her rookie teammate from Park City, Utah, qualified ninth and finished 12th in the medal run with a time of 31.476. Brittney Arndt, also of Park City, did not qualify. Emily Sweeney of Lake Placid ended her season two weeks ago with a neck issue.
Roman Repilov completed the Russian sweep with his gold medal run in the day’s final event. Repilov qualified ninth fastest, but found something after lunch when the race began. A former World Cup overall champion and the tour’s current leader, Repilov had the fastest split times on a track where top men’s speeds hovered around 87 miles-per-hour. The winner’s time of 34.901 was merely 0.006 of a second faster than 2018 Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria. The bronze medalist was Dominik Fischnaller of Italy. The man who missed an Olympic medal in South Korea by only 0.002 of a second, has become a fixture in the top three under the tutelage of iconic coach Armin Zoeggeler, who won six Olympic medals in six appearances. The protégé’s sprint time was 0.05 from Repilov.
Notables not in contention were German Felix Loch, who won his second Olympic gold medal here in 2014, and Johannes Ludwig, a recent winner of two World Cups and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist. Ludwig did not qualify for the Sochi sprint.
USA Luge was kept out of the sprint race as Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, Jonny Gustafson of Massena, N.Y., and two-time Olympian Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn., were all outside the top 15 in qualifying.
USA LUGE SIDETRACKS
Follow the World Championships this weekend on the OlympicChannel.com live stream. Doubles and women’s singles begin Saturday at 5:40 AM ET; Men’s singles and team relay Sunday at 5:15 AM ET.
Four TV shows will air from Sochi, the first 3 on the Olympic Channel: Feb. 15 at 10:30 AM and 12 noon, and Feb. 16 at 10 AM. NBC Sports Network will air a 2-hour show Feb. 16 beginning at 10:30 PM. All times Eastern. Schedule subject to change. This is part of 33.5 hours of luge coverage this season on a variety of NBC platforms.
USA Luge will participate in a multi-sport promotional event Feb. 15-16 at the Titletown Winter Games, adjacent to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
The Casella USA Luge Challenge, the final stop of the season, will be held March 14 at Titus Mountain in Malone, N.Y.