Above: Tucker West at the conclusion of his first heat of competition in Sigulda, Latvia on January 26, 2020
SIGULDA, Latvia – Emily Sweeney finished her weekend in Sigulda with a 14th place result Sunday in the third and last World Cup luge sprint race of the season. After previous results of third and second places, Sweeney placed fourth in the final sprint standings.
Earlier, in the traditional singles event, Tucker West raced to 17th place and Jonny Gustafson 30th on a day that was dominated by spring weather, light rain, high humidity, frost and slowing conditions. It was also a day where start positions meant everything.
The trio were the only Americans in action as Sweeney qualified for the sprint race that includes the top 15 from the two-heat event. She had the fastest split time of the field, but then lost ground to the finish. Summer Britcher, Brittney Arndt and Ashley Farquharson wound up outside the top grouping. Sweeney, a Lake Placid resident, was 15th on Saturday in singles.
Once again, 2018 Olympic silver medal winner Chris Mazdzer, competing not only in singles but also in doubles with Jayson Terdiman, continued to rest his ailing neck this weekend. The team of Dana Kellogg and Duncan Segger made their World Cup debut in 20th place 24 hours earlier.
The sprint uses the “flying start” concept where athletes begin from their usual start heights on the track, but timing doesn’t begin until further down the course. In Sigulda, that occurred after the curve five-six combination. Sweeney, also feeling the effects of a sore neck, returned to racing this weekend after resting last week in Lillehammer.
The tour now moves on to Oberhof, Germany for the final World Cup prior to the Sochi World Championships, set for Feb. 14-16. The season-ending World Cup meets will occur in Winterberg and Koenigssee after Sochi.
With weather resembling April instead of January, start positions, especially in the second run, were critical in determining the outcome. Pyeongchang Olympic gold and bronze medalist Johannes Ludwig found himself on the right side of the divide as the German was back in 21st place after the first heat, used the early second run start, and captured the gold medal. Ludwig occupied the leader’s box the entire run and watched as all the first heat contenders, starting later in the final leg when conditions were getting slower, could not make a serious run at the top.
World Cup leader Roman Repilov, of Russia, benefitted similarly as he rose from 22nd place to the silver medal. David Gleirscher, Austria’s 2018 Olympic champion, improved from 10th in the first run to grab the bronze medal. His brother, Nico, stood fourth at the break but did not complete the second heat.
Conversely, Arturs Darznieks of Latvia, starting 12th, sat on the lead at the intermission, but racing very late in the last run, he settled for eighth place. Slovakia’s Josef Ninis began the race right behind Darznieks in second place. However, starting the second leg at the end of the field, he, too, fell back into 21st place.
On paper, it was a great race, with Ludwig recording a two-heat total time of 1 minute, 37.246 seconds, defeating Repilov by merely 0.01 of a second. Gleirscher was 0.02 behind the winner. The three medalists all admitted after the race, though, that luck played a significant role in the outcome, with Ludwig further stating that he couldn’t take any pleasure from the win.
West, of Ridgefield, Conn., had no drastic errors, but the slowing track determined his fate. His total time was 1:37.815. Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., was 30th.
Sprint World Cup champions were crowned Sunday with a unique scoring system. Rather than using race results or World Cup points, the times of all three events were totaled to determine the final rankings of the one-heat event.
Julia Taubitz, of Germany, completed a weekend sweep of the gold medals by taking the sprint. Her three-race combined time of 1:33.466 was 0.33 faster than Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova. Teammate Victoriia Demchenko was third, followed by Sweeney in the final ranking. Sunday’s sprint finale looked similar at the top, with Demchenko taking silver and Ivanova bronze.
With the sprint points and five victories, Taubitz has overtaken Ivanova for the overall World Cup points lead, 750 to 737, with three traditional singles races remaining. Demchenko is third with 537. Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., is fifth at 393 having missed the added points in two of the three sprint events. Sweeney is eighth at 369 as she continues to work through neck issues. Park City, Utah racers, Farquharson and Arndt, are 16th and 20th, respectively, on the season.
Russia’s Semen Pavlichenko used his fly or die racing style to win Sunday’s sprint and finish second in the discipline. Pavlichenko, whose head is never visible going down the track for better aerodynamics, defeated Italian Dominik Fischnaller and Austrian Olympic gold medalist David Gleirscher. World Cup overall leader Roman Repilov stumbled to 12th in the race, but it was good enough to win the discipline and retain his overall tour lead. Repilov edged his compatriot by 0.07 of a second for the three events, with Reinhard Egger, of Austria, third.
Repilov, trying to win the overall World Cup for the second time, is atop the list with 653 points. Fischnaller is the next pursuer with 595, followed by Pavlichenko at 524. West, a 2014 and 2018 Olympian, is ninth with 354 points. Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., ranks 15th with 241 points, followed by Gustafson in 19th at 175 points.
Before their home fans, Latvians Kristens Putins and Imants Marcinkevics won the sprint, marking their first career victory. In a tight finish, the winners were 0.007 of a second ahead of teammates and brothers Andris and Juris Sics, who won Saturday’s doubles race, and Emanuel Rieder and Simon Kainzwaldner, of Italy, who shared second place. Germany wound up 4-5-7.
In a very close final sprint standing, the Sics brothers won the three-race chase, followed by two German sleds. Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken were just 0.014 of a second from the Latvians, while Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt were 0.015 from the winners.
Adding in all the points, Eggert/Benecken head the season-long World Cup standings with 722 points. Wendl/Arlt have 662, with Team Sics advancing to third place at 526. The brothers hurdled over Austria’s Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, whose season ended this week in a training run crash that resulted in a broken leg to Steu.
Mazdzer/Terdiman are 20th in a partial season, while Kellogg/Segger are 26th.
USA LUGE SIDETRACKS
Chevonne Forgan and Zack DiGregorio, from the U.S. junior national team, will get their initial World Cup opportunities in Oberhof and Koenigssee, while Sean Hollander will start in Koenigssee. All three, along with Kellogg/Segger, will return to the junior ranks for the Junior World Championships Feb. 21-22 in Oberhof. The final Youth A and Junior World Cups of the season take place in Winterberg Jan. 31 – Feb. 1.