KOENIGSSEE, Germany – USA Luge made its return to the Eberspacher World Cup tour Saturday, with 2018 Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman finishing 13th in doubles. Mazdzer later came back with a 15th place in men’s singles. Jonny Gustafson took 20th, also in singles. All three qualified Friday in the Nations Cup races with bronze medal performances. Two-time Olympian Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn. did not qualify in the Nations Cup.
After nearly two months on its home track in Lake Placid, this was the first time the Americans have ventured away from home. A normal fall schedule would have seen them training on many courses in October and November. But COVID-19 created a new normal this season.
The United States squad opted not to participate in the World Cup prior to the holidays as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and related travel and quarantine regulations. Each athlete and coach tested negative three times from the moment they left the U.S. on Dec. 27, to their landing in Frankfurt on Dec. 28 and arrival in this Bavarian paradise adjacent to Berchtesgaden.
Other than the opening race of the season near Innsbruck, Austria, World Cup luge this winter has been contested in a German bubble, and very few have been able to bust it. To date, they are currently ranked 1-2-3 in women’s singles, 1-2 in men’s singles and 2-3 in doubles. In a total of nine World Cup competitions and the World Championships, six stops in all will be contested in the country. To be fair, two weeks in Koenigssee, which is postcard perfect year-round, is hardly a prison sentence.
The track runs along the foot of Watzmann Mountain with King’s Lake adjacent to the course. The skiing and snowboarding nearby is also quite good. However, the village’s assets cannot be fully enjoyed as a result of a COVID lockdown. This weekend of racing typically ends the 12 Days of Christmas; the holiday is an economic boon for hotels, pensions, restaurants, bars and shops. But this year, not so much.
New year, old story – German teams battle for gold while Austrians continue to make inroads. Such was the case Saturday as Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken overtook archrivals Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt in the second heat to win their 45th career victory. Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller of Austria were third, 0.47 of a second off the pace, followed by teammates Yannick Mueller and Armin Fraucher in fourth.
On a comfortable 30-degree morning, the winners snatched the grand prize from the hometown boys. Wendl and Arlt, the four-time Olympic champions from the Bavarian region, had a slim 0.02 of a second advantage after one leg. Not satisfied, they made a change to their sled setup between runs, a move that backfired. Notwithstanding, Eggert and Benecken smoked the field, winning the heat by 0.17 en route to a 0.14 of a second victory. Koenigssee’s long, flat doubles start favors a strong and quick getaway. These two sleds were among the race leaders in that department.
"The decision is made at the start," said Steu. "We want to add something there."
Through seven of 12 events this season, Steu and Koeller retain first place with 586 World Cup points on the strength of three gold, two silver and one bronze medal. In winning three of the last four races, Eggert and Benecken have closed to within 20 points, with Wendl and Arlt a distant third, over 100 points from the Austrians.
Mazdzer and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., the lone American entry, collected 30 World Cup points in their season debut. The U.S. duo scraped a wall in the exit of the fourth S-turn in the opening leg, and also lost time late in the final run. For Mazdzer it was his first World Cup competition after two surgeries at the end of last winter and ensuing rehabilitation.
Dana Kellogg, of Chesterfield, Mass., and Duncan Segger, of Lake Placid, remained at home. The young doubles team will train in the U.S. for the remainder of the year. Kellogg, a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), could not travel abroad as per WCAP orders.
Thus far, the discussion this year begins and ends with Felix Loch. The German three-time Olympic gold medalist has now won six of seven events, including Saturday on his home track. Loch’s overall World Cup lead is 235 points over teammate and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Johannes Ludwig. At the current pace, Loch could secure the World Cup crystal within a few weeks.
In Koenigssee, Loch posted the two fastest runs of the race and won by nearly 0.3 of a second. Russian Roman Repilov, defending World Cup champion, took the silver for his first medal of the year. Ludwig was third, 0.7 behind Loch. Austria had three in the top eight, led by Nico Gleirscher in fourth place. His brother David, 2018 Olympic gold medal winner, did not complete the first heat. Mazdzer, of Salt Lake City, and Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., were both over a second from Loch in their first World Cup of the season.
The World Cup leader has separated himself with 655 points to Ludwig’s 420. Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller is third at 391 after placing an uncharacteristic 12th in the race.
Sunday’s weekend finale will begin with women’s singles at 3:20 AM ET and conclude with the team relay. Watch all the action on the OlympicChannel.com’s live stream.
The Koenigssee World Cup weekend serves as a preview of the World Championships to be held here Jan. 29-31. The premiere event of the season was moved from Whistler, B.C. as a result of the coronavirus.