Left photo: Summer Britcher (left)on the Lillehammer podium. Right Photo: Maya Chan and Reannyn Weiler in action in St. Moritz.
LILLEHAMMER, Norway – The luge world has its attention split this weekend between Scandinavia and Central Europe, as the Viessmann World Cup resumed in Lillehammer while the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) continued in St. Moritz.
In Norway, two-time Olympian Summer Britcher showed that the Hunderfossen track in Lillehammer is her happy place as she used a brilliant second run to advance from fourth to the silver medal. The result also brought her up to fourth in the overall World Cup rankings. Brittney Arndt rebounded from last week with a ninth-place performance, and Ashley Farquharson was 17th. Emily Sweeney did not compete. She withdrew from last week’s second run with a neck issue and did not train in Lillehammer.
Meanwhile, the inaugural women’s doubles event occurred at the YOG, where Americans Maya Chan and Reannyn Weiler raced to a fourth-place result. It marked the first women’s doubles competition sanctioned by the IOC and is being considered for inclusion in the Winter Olympics. Men’s singles opened the day where Matt Greiner took ninth and Hunter Harris placed 15th.
The lone United States World Cup doubles team of Chris Mazdzer/Jayson Terdiman, with five Olympic berths between them, were out of action Saturday as Mazdzer incurred a neck problem on Wednesday and will gauge his return on a daily basis. Nevertheless, there was plenty of drama and surprises as Germany, with three sleds in the field, were shut out of the medals for the first time in nine years, and Russians grabbed two of the three medals.
Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., have been selected to compete at the World Championships in Sochi next month.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., collected her third World Cup silver medal of the season in un-Lillehammer conditions for mid-January. Instead of arctic cold, the World Cup encountered mild temps all week. Race conditions were foggy with the mercury stuck in the low to mid-30s. Britcher admitted that, usually, the warmth doesn’t agree with her.
“I was a little disappointed in the beginning of the week to see te forecast,” she said. “I typically don’t perform as well in warmer weather, so I just had to re-focus and try to do my best out there. I’m pretty happy with how things went.”
Britcher opened the event with a fourth place run that saw a few bobbles, but left her within striking distance to the podium. Interestingly, her second run start was only 14th best in the heat, but then she kicked in the after-burners and gobbled up time down the 1994 Olympic course, posting the second fastest run time behind winner Tatyana Ivanova of Russia.
Britcher won twice two seasons ago when the tour last visited Lillehammer. As to her success here?
“It comes down to a few things,” stated the 2014 and 2018 member of Team USA. “One of them is that I just love to slide here. I love this track, I love where we stay. It’s beautiful. And the other thing is the past four years, I think, I’ve trained from the top of the track. Three of those years I raced in the (fall) fun race, the Lillehammer Cup in the men’s category from the top of the track, so it kind of takes some stress off. Get some more experience, then go down and compete at a lower start height. It’s my opinion that we should all be racing from the top, but I’ll take advantage of the experience as long as there is that discrepancy.”
Ivanova, third at the mid-point, overtook leader Julia Taubitz, of Germany, in the final leg for her fourth gold medal of the season. The Russian clocked a combined 1 minute, 35.482 seconds to hold off Britcher by 0.11 of a second. Taubitz wound up third, 0.14 from the winner.
The American, who finished third in the World Cup standings the past two years, is now positioned for a comparable finish with five individual competitions remaining. Ivanova, with five medals in seven starts, holds the overall World Cup lead with 582 points. She is followed by Taubitz with 550 and another Russian, Victoriia Demchenko, third with 392 after collecting fourth place points here. Britcher is next with 370 points and might be ranked higher had she qualified for the Whistler sprint cup.
Teammates Brittney Arndt and Ashley Farquharson took ninth and 17th, respectively, as the Park City, Utah residents seek berths in the World Championships. Currently, they are partially qualified, while Britcher and Sweeney have met the criteria with their World Cup medals. Sweeney has missed the past two singles events. The Lake Placid slider scored a silver medal at home and is ranked sixth on tour.
Two Russian sleds boat raced right passed Germany en route to gold and bronze medals, with Austria occupying the silver medal. It was the first time in 10 years that no German sled has appeared on the World Cup podium. However, they will depart Lillehammer Monday still in possession of the top two places in the overall doubles World Cup.
It was nothing but aces for Alexsandr Denisev and Vladislav Antonov, who registered the best times of each leg. Their total of 1:35.585 bested Austria’s Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, who were runners-up in each heat. They clocked 1:35.685. Russians Vladislav Yuzhakov and Iurii Prokhorov finished third, 0.17 from their compatriots.
Germany had very pedestrian finishes of 7-8-10, led by four-time Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. They are second in the standings with 517 points to Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken who took eighth. It was their first time out of the top two this winter in seven events. Eggert/Benecken have a World Cup-leading 597 points. Steu/Koller are third with 486. Russia occupies fourth, sixth and eight places on the campaign. Mazdzer/Terdiman, with four finishes to date, are 18th ranked.
YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES
A podium finish was in sight Saturday for the U.S. women’s doubles team of Maya Chan and Reannyn Weiler. Training this week had gone well, and the duo occupied third place at the intermission of the very first women’s doubles race to be held under the Olympic banner. Both runs began with strong starts, and midway through the final run in St. Moritz, in this highly anticipated event, they were holding on to third place late in the heat, until encountering some trouble in the Gunter Sachs Corner. The loss of time dropped them to fourth place, nearly 0.2 of a second from the medals.
In the second run, Russia, in second place tumbled down the rankings, but when sleds from Canada and Latvia rallied, the Americans were relegated to fourth place.
On a snowy day in the Engadine region, the gold medal went to Germany’s Jessica Degenhardt and Vanessa Doreen Schneider, quickest in both runs, in a two-heat aggregate time of 1:51.443. Canadians Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corliss, who raced in the Whistler World Cup last month, improved from fourth to second in 1:52.709. Latvians Viktorija Ziedina and Selina Elizabete Zvilna edged the Americans for the bronze in 1:53.043. Chan, of Chicago, and Weiler, of Whitesboro, N.Y., had the fourth-place time of 1:53.240.
The first race of the day, men’s singles, saw Latvia, Russia and Germany take the hardware. Gints Berzins dominated both heats, while Pavel Repilov, whose brother Roman is leading the men’s World Cup tour, was next followed by Timon Grancagnolo.
Greiner, of Park City, was ninth with the seventh and ninth best individual runs. He totaled 1:49.730, while Harris, of East Fairfield, Vt., recorded 1:51.605.
Sunday will be a day of rest for YOG sliders. The finale is set for Monday morning when the team relay is contested. USA Luge will enter Greiner, McKenna Mazlo, and Chan/Weiler.
Above: Hunter Harris (left) and Matt Greiner
USA LUGE SIDETRACKS
Live streaming of all World Cup events this weekend will be offered on www.olympicchannel.com. Sunday men’s singles and the team relay commence at 3:20 AM ET. USA Luge will have Tucker West and Jonny Gustafson in the singles event. There will be no team relay for the Americans.
Television coverage will be provided by the Olympic Channel Saturday at 4:30 and 5:30 PM ET. Sunday telecasts include NBC Sports Network at 6 PM ET, followed by the Olympic Channel at 7 PM ET Sunday.