IGLS, Austria – The World Cup luge season begins Thanksgiving weekend in this small, picturesque village outside Innsbruck, Austria despite the national lockdown in that country caused by the coronavirus. The start of the pre-Olympic season will take place without the United States, which cited an abundance of caution and the restrictions created by mandatory quarantines, as the reasons for delaying its participation.
USA Luge plans to join the tour in January. The team will be led by two-time Olympian Summer Britcher who finished fifth last season and is the team’s all-time leader in singles victories with five. Britcher will join fellow Olympians Tucker West in singles, and the doubles sled of 2018 Olympic singles silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman. The quartet, with nine Olympic berths amongst them, raced to a 2020 World Championship bronze medal. Pyeongchang Olympic teammate and 2019 World Championship bronze medal winner Emily Sweeney intends to be right there with them at the 2021 World Championships, one of the two highlight events the team’s leadership is pointing to this winter. The other is the pre-Olympic World Cup trip to the new track north of Beijing. For now, though, the American racers will have to be content with viewing the events from afar Nov. 27-29.
"Top-class sports events are still permitted in Austria, with considerable restrictions such as a strict hygiene concept and, of course, without spectators at the venue,” said Christoph Schweiger, International Luge Federation (FIL) Executive Director who also doubles as the organization’s hygiene officer. “We are well aware that this can change at any time. FIL and the Austrian Luge Federation are cooperating very closely with the federal authorities and local institutions. Our strict COVID-19 protection and hygiene concept is designed to safeguard the events. The compliance and carefulness of all athletes as well as officials and service providers, is of the highest importance.”
World Cup luge racing, in 2020-2021, will look and feel differently as a result of the COVID-19 precautions taken by the FIL. For starters, Eberspacher, an international automotive supplier located in 29 countries, replaces Viessmann as long-time title sponsor.
The vibe at each track will also be new. Athletes in all sports have now become accustomed to competing in quiet surroundings as many events have not permitted spectators in the COVID era. It will be against this backdrop that luge racers such as Julia Taubitz of Germany, Roman Repilov of Russia, and the doubles team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, also of Germany, will begin defense of their overall 2019-2020 World Cup titles in the two-time Olympic region. Among the challengers will be several familiar faces returning to action. Natalie Geisenberger and Dajana Eitberger, both Germans, were expectant mothers last season and have qualified to rejoin their national team.
This is also a luge campaign that will enable many athletes to take a preliminary step to the 2022 Olympic Games while dodging the coronavirus.
At the 68th Annual FIL Congress held virtually last weekend in Salzburg, Austria, former General Secretary Einars Fogelis of Latvia replaced the retiring Josef Fendt as FIL president. Fendt, of Germany, an Olympic silver medalist and two-time World Champion, served in the position for 26 years. Dwight Bell, of Atlanta, was elected General Secretary. Bell is a former long-time president and board member of USA Luge, USA Chef de Mission for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games, member of the 2014, 2018 and 2022 IOC Evaluation Commissions, and most recently, a member of the FIL Executive Board.
Fendt was honored by the FIL in several ways, including the placing of his name on Koenigssee’s famed Seekurve (lake curve). It will be labeled Josef Fendt Kurve. In his closing remarks, the retired leader stated that the primary goal of all FIL presidents is to ensure that luge remains in the Olympic program.
Also, at the Congress, the 2024 World Championships were awarded to Altenberg, Germany. The Junior World Championships in 2022 will be held on the redesigned and updated course in Bludenz, Austria, with the 2023 junior worlds headed to Winterberg, Germany after the resort town lost the 2021 event due to the pandemic.
Former German competitor Tatyana Huefner, a winner of all three Olympic medals prior to her retirement, has started working with Italy as start coach.
The Italian women’s team has lost the services of two-time Olympian Sandra Robatscher, who will not compete this season after suffering a shoulder injury in pre-season sliding that required surgery.
Since returning to fall training at Mt. Van Hoevenberg three weeks ago, USA Luge has held two “unofficial” races to begin the process of returning to race mode. Head coach Robert Fegg announced that several seeding races will be scheduled next month in Lake Placid to finalize the team that hopes to return to World Cup and World Championship action in January.