Many athletes, including USA Luge, step away from Winterberg World Cup due to track conditions

By Sandy Caligiore | Feb. 21, 2020, 2:14 p.m. (ET)


WINTERBERG, Germany –
Three weeks ago when the Junior World Cup tour stopped in Winterberg, conditions were so abhorrent that USA Luge coach Robert Fegg said it was “raining insanely”. This week the Viessmann World Cup moved into the same Hochsauerland region, with organizers struggling to create safe and competitive conditions worthy of the world’s best sliders.

As a result, many athletes, including the entire USA Luge contingent, have opted out of this weekend’s penultimate World Cup event. The races will be devoid of 2018 Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria, Pyeongchang silver medalist Chris Mazdzer of the United States, the two German doubles teams that won medals in South Korea, namely 2014 and 2018 Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, and 2018 bronze winners Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Felix Loch, also of Germany. The entire Austrian team departed early.

USA Luge issued a statement on the matter Friday morning:

“We respect our team’s opinions that conditions are not safe. The entire Austrian team has walked away, as well as some Germans and Russians, including Olympic medalists and World Cup leaders, who are also not racing. Jim Leahy, USA Luge CEO, sent a note to the FIL this morning expressing our concern for the safety of our athletes and all athletes.”

In collaboration with event organizers, the International Luge Federation (FIL) Friday dropped the start heights, of which there are three in Winterberg, for the weekend. For those athletes that do compete, men will race from the women’s start; women will commence from the lower doubles start; doubles will get underway from their usual location.

There are some hotly contested overall World Cup titles to be decided over the final two weekends of the season. Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova and German Julia Taubitz are separated by only 12 points, with Ivanova clinging to the lead. Both were slated to enter their race as of this writing.

Eggert/Benecken are only 10 World Cup points ahead of Wendl/Arlt with the overall championship now to be decided next weekend in Koenigssee.

In the men’s division, Roman Repilov of Russia, a double World Champion last week in Sochi, also removed himself from the event in Winterberg. He is 61 points ahead of Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller in the season-long World Cup battle. Fischnaller is slated to compete.

The team relay outcome is also a flip of the coin currently as Germany, Italy and Austria are bunched together in that order with just two events remaining. Only Italy is entering a team on Sunday.

JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Meanwhile, Oberhof, three and a half hours east of Winterberg, is the site of the Junior World Championships which began today with men’s and women’s singles. The U.S. luge youngsters were led by Zack DiGregorio in 10th place. The Medway, Mass. athlete, who made his World Cup debut several weeks ago in Oberhof, clocked 1 minute, 31.230 seconds for his two runs. The winner was Moritz Bollman, who has seen some World Cup action this year. Bollman won the gold medal by 0.2 of a second.

Sean Hollander of Lake Placid was 12th, Keaton Jens of St. Charles, Ill. took 19th, and Ian Smith of Carlisle, Mass. did not finish.

In the women’s race, Chevonne Forgan of Chelmsford, Mass. wound up 19th, while Sophie Kirkby of Ray Brook, N.Y. and McKenna Mazlo of Souderton, Pa. both did not finish.

Junior worlds conclude Saturday with doubles and the team competition.