SIGULDA, Latvia – With Latvia in a coronavirus lockdown and no spectators in sight, the Eberspacher World Cup luge tour entered the Baltic region in its moving bubble as the circuit works its way through nine World Cup races and the upcoming World Championships. USA Luge, in its second tour appearance of the season, saw the doubles team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman record a 10th place finish on Saturday. Earlier, three Americans raced into the top 15, led by Tucker West 12th, Mazdzer 13th, and Jonny Gustafson 15th.
“For Jayson and me, it was really important to get out of Lake Placid and onto the World Cup circuit,” said Mazdzer. “It’s really hard to be consistent in Lake Placid on the doubles sled - I would rank it as one of the hardest doubles tracks in the world. This fall that was definitely the case and we struggled to find good runs while testing new equipment. With a few days left in Lake Placid, we made the decision to scrap our project sled and go back on Jayson’s sled. In hindsight that was the best possible decision for us.”
“For sure things are coming along nicely,” added Terdiman. “Training in Lake Placid, where conditions were a little less than desirable throughout the early season, it feels like this is only our second week of actual sliding, so to find ourselves in the mix this quickly is a confidence builder. It's been a great week for Chris and myself. We've really worked hard to improve our runs and times with each attempt down the track. We left a little bit of time out there today that we hope to clean up for the team relay event tomorrow.”
Sigulda’s technically demanding, high speed track was complicated further this week with cold temperatures leading to fast ice. It was such conditions three years ago that brought Mazdzer out of a two-year slump and gave him the momentum that carried the Salt Lake City resident to the 2018 Olympic silver medal in singles. Several neck and shoulder surgeries later, and in just his second start of the COVID-plagued season, he mustered individual heats that were 11th and 16th best, respectively, leading to a 13th place finish.
Mazdzer was right behind West, a two-time Olympian in his first race of the year. West, of Ridgefield, Conn., clocked a pair of runs that totaled 0.8 of a second behind thus far unstoppable German winner Felix Loch. West will get the USA Luge start in Sunday’s team relay. Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., led the Americans in Friday’s Nations Cup qualifying.
Once again, Loch has found the happy place in his sliding and that’s spelling bad news for the rest of the world. In posting the best two runs of the day, the 31-year-old, who stated later that he prepared his sled to gain speed at the bottom of the course, came within 0.02 of a second from the track record. Loch defeated compatriot Johannes Ludwig, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist, by over 0.2 of a second for his 46th career World Cup triumph.
The Germans had never finished 1-2 in Sigulda until now. A triple Olympic gold medal winner, Loch has captured seven of the eight races held to date. This includes six singles events (two heat races) and one sprint victory (one heat). He has 755 overall World Cup points to Ludwig’s 505. Italian Dominik Fischnaller was third in the race, nearly 0.3 from Loch, and is third overall with 461 points.
The Sigulda track is home cooking for not only that country’s luge team but for Russia as well. Prior to the opening of the Olympic run in Sochi, this is where the Russians came to prepare for the season. Their sliders crowded the first page of the results list, but unfortunately, it was behind the medalists. Those two nations accounted for places four through seven. Russia’s defending World Cup and World Champion, Roman Repilov, was seventh in a season that has seen him grab just one medal to date.
Austria struggled uncharacteristically as they could do no better than Nico Gleirscher’s eighth place. His brother and Pyeongchang Olympic champion, David Gleirscher, fared worse. David was disqualified for steel temperatures that were too warm.
Put two veteran sliders together on their home course, with Olympic medals on their resumes, and you could almost predict the outcome. The Latvian Sics brothers, Andris and Juris, raced to a World Cup victory, defeating Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt by 0.02 of a second over the two legs of the race. No longer among the fastest at the start, the Sics siblings, both in their mid-30s, are near the head of the class in guiding a doubles sled to the finish. But it wasn’t so long ago when three Olympic medals and six World Championship medals were a pipe dream. In the spring of 2012, Juris suffered a serious car accident after a training session, suffering a broken pelvis, broken hip and fractured collarbone. But six months later he was back on a sled.
The winners grabbed the first run advantage by 0.04 over the Germans, and although Wendl and Arlt registered the best second heat, the Latvian pair had enough in reserve to eke out a slim 0.029 victory. Martins Bots and Roberts Plume, a rising Latvian duo, raced onto their first-ever World Cup podium, trailing their teammates by 0.1 of a second. Latvian and Russian sleds accounted for four of the top six in the race.
Conspicuous by their absences was the team of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken of Germany. The weekly contenders shocked all onlookers first with a poor execution of the start curve, and later by rolling over onto their left side, thus ending any chance to contend. These errors, coupled with a fifth-place result for Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller, kept Steu and Koeller atop the World Cup rankings at 641 points, with Eggert and Benecken second at 585. Wendl and Arlt are third (548) with the Sics brothers next in line (494).
For the Americans, who skipped the first half of the season as a result of the coronavirus and the resultant travel complications, the 2020-2021 season, for mathematical reasons, is not one for World Cup overall aspirations. Given the elimination of a pre-Olympic trip to Beijing, the team is fixated on the season’s highlight in three weeks.
“I'm really happy with our runs from the World Cup,” stated Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. “Though not perfect, finding consistency in Sigulda is very difficult. Of course, our eyes are set on being in the best possible sliding form come World Championships at the end of this month in Koenigssee, just taking things one week, day, run at a time.”
From his teammate’s perspective, the season also appears to just be getting underway.
“It took a few runs in Koenigssee to get used to World Cup ice and now we are enjoying the smooth ice, well-built transitions and enjoying being able to feel the sled and make the necessary changes to fix issues and go faster,” continued Mazdzer. “Our starts are definitely our weak point right now and we will be focusing on that this off-season. The goal is to peak at worlds and hopefully we’ll have a strong enough start to stay competitive and the confidence to really let Jayson’s sled fly.”
The yearly visit to Sigulda concludes Sunday with women’s singles followed by the team relay, all starting at 3:30 AM ET on OlympicChannel.com