Above: Emily Sweeney in action during the January 25 World Cup in Sigulda, Latvia.
SIGULDA, Latvia – Emily Sweeney led the United States Saturday in Sigulda with a 15th place Viessmann World Cup luge result in a race that changed complexion radically in the second heat.
Teammate Summer Britcher, on an unusually mild day near the Baltic Sea, was the first run leader by 0.08 of a second. However, second heat struggles dropped the two-time Olympian to 18th place. Curve 11 execution came into play for both Sweeney and Britcher in the second run.
Two other USA Luge athletes, Brittney Arndt and Ashley Farquharson, were 23rd and 26th, respectively. As Sigulda also marks the final sprint cup of the season on Sunday, only Sweeney qualified for the event that is reserved for the top 15 finishers.
The doubles race that followed featured the World Cup debut of U.S. juniors Dana Kellogg and Duncan Segger, who qualified fifth on Friday. Unfortunately, they rolled their sled in the first heat but managed to complete the run legally. In the second run, to their credit, Kellogg, like Sweeney a member of the Army National Guard, and Segger regrouped and recorded a final heat time that was 5.5 seconds better and wound up 20th.
They were the lone American entry in the race as the team of Chris Mazdzer/Jayson Terdiman remain sidelined. Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist who is racing both disciplines, is taking time to heal his upper body injuries.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., was in position to win her sixth career World Cup race after an outstanding opening leg on softer ice due to temperatures in the mid to high 30s. Whereas the 2014 and 2018 Olympian gained time heading down the technical Sigulda track in the opening heat, it went the opposite way in the final run as she lost time to the finish, with her feet hitting the track to stabilize the sled exiting curve 14.
The beneficiary was German Julia Taubitz, who rose from seventh place to take her sixth victory of the season. She held off Russia’s World Cup leader Tatyana Ivanova by 0.11 of a second. Ivanova also staged a major rally by advancing from eighth place to the silver medal in the second run. The winner clocked 1 minute, 24.944 seconds, but Ivanova, with four gold and two silver medals to date, leads Taubitz by 17 points in the overall World Cup standings after eight of 12 races. Eliza Cauce, on her home track, took third place in 1:25.094. Another Russian, Victoriia Demchenko, finished fourth and sits in third place on the season, followed by Britcher who remains in fourth place on the strength of three World Cup silver medals this season.
Sweeney, of Lake Placid, was in position in both runs to have a medal contending finish as her split times put her at or near the top. But all runs in Sigulda put pressure on athletes to precisely get the sled to the finish. Ironically, it was Britcher’s second heat hiccup that enabled Sweeney to qualify for Sunday’s World Cup sprint race.
On the season, Sweeney, the 2019 World Championship bronze medalist, is sixth in the World Cup despite withdrawing from the second heat two weeks ago and not starting last week. Neck issues were the cause of her absences. She has two silver medals and one bronze this winter.
Arndt and Farquharson, the Park City, Utah singles racers, qualified on Friday in the Nations Cup, with the Farquharson scoring a bronze medal. Arndt was ninth. After Saturday’s results, Farquharson is 15th ranked and Arndt 20th. Both are partially qualified for the World Championships next month in Sochi. Their final opportunity for a berth comes next weekend in Oberhof.
Latvia’s ageless Sics brothers, Andris and Juris, whose careers date back to 2004, finally won a traditional two-heat World Cup doubles race. They have Olympic medals to their credit, and earlier this year, they captured the Lake Placid sprint cup for their first career victory. But on their home track, Andris, 34, and Juris, 36, held off a German sweep as the dominant doubles team of the past 10 years placed 2-3-4. It was a marked improvement after finishing no better than seventh last weekend in Lillehammer. The remainder of the top 10 Saturday featured nations that call Sigulda home. Latvia and Russia, which trained here exclusively prior to the construction of the track in Sochi, accounted for six of the top nine sleds in this race.
Team Sics posted a combined time of 1:23.804. Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, four-time Olympic champions, were just 0.03 from the Latvians. Defending World Champions in doubles and sprint, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken took third in 1:24.045. They remain atop the overall World Cup standings with 667 points despite injuring themselves and their sled last week, and crashing here in the final training run. Wendl and Arlt are second at 602, while Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller are third at 486. However, their final ranking this season will drop as Steu suffered a broken leg this week in a training crash, thus ending the team’s season. The Sics brothers are fourth.
Kellogg, of Chesterfield, Mass., and Segger, of Lake Placid, collected their first World Cup points – 21 – and are tied for 26th on the World Cup season.
Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., remain sidelined while Mazdzer gets healthy. Both are slated to race in the World Championships, with Mazdzer doing double duty. His status remains day by day. They are in 20th place with 118 points having competed in just five of eight events.
USA LUGE SIDETRACKS
There will be three television shows from Sigulda, all on Olympic Channel - Saturday 5 PM ET (women), Sunday 12:30 AM ET (doubles), Sunday 11:30 AM ET (men).
Sunday’s final day in Sigulda gets underway at 3:25 AM ET with men’s singles, followed by the sprint cup.
Chevonne Forgan and Zack DiGregorio, from the junior national team, will get their initial World Cup opportunities in Oberhof and Koenigssee, while Sean Hollander will start in Koenigssee.