OBERHOF, Germany – On the original Eberspacher World Cup luge schedule, the world’s fastest athletes were scheduled to be in Lake Placid this weekend. But COVID-19 changed the entire nature of the season, relegating the tour to mostly German races.
Oberhof was awarded Lake Placid’s event, bringing the circuit to this winter sports mecca twice this season. Normally, that would be an ominous sign for non-German nations, but at least on Saturday, Austria stepped up to the challenge and grabbed three of the six medals awarded, while Germany took two podium results as start and track records tumbled in cold weather and outstanding ice conditions.
The USA Luge effort was led by the doubles team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman who raced into 15th place over the two heats. Earlier, Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, was 20th in singles, while Jonny Gustafson finished 23rd and Tucker West 24th.
Each weekend, the series concludes with either a team relay or sprint races, but in Oberhof, whose track is undergoing some renovation, neither can occur. The venue is still a construction site. Hence, Sunday’s schedule only finds a women’s singles event on the docket. That race will be held with USA Luge’s Summer Britcher holding the track record. The two-time Olympian achieved the feat in winning Friday’s Nations Cup qualifier.
With Felix Loch winning for the eighth time in nine races to date, including two in Oberhof, Germany’s triple Olympic champion has virtually locked up the season-long overall World Cup title. In doing so, Loch established a record with his seventh straight singles (two-heat race) victory surpassing the marks of six consecutive wins set by Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler and Austrian Markus Prock. Those seven singles triumphs give Loch the 2020-2021 World Cup title in the two-heat discipline as he cannot be caught.
How dominant has the 31-year-old Loch been? Consider that Tiger Woods, in his best seasons, didn’t win at such a pace. In 2000, the great golfer was victorious in nine of 20 tournaments; in 2006, Woods claimed victory in eight of 15 starts.
Loch, with 855 points, leads by 290 in the overall chase with three events remaining. A World Cup victory is worth 100 points. Teammate Johannes Ludwig, the Pyeongchang Olympic bronze medal winner, kept himself mathematically alive by finishing fourth Saturday on his home track and remains a distant second (565 points) in the overall World Cup rankings. Ludwig was second when Oberhof hosted its first event of the season last month.
Loch, now with 47 World Cup wins, set start and track records in posting the two fastest heats of the day on the short, luge only track. He held off Austrian Jonas Mueller by nearly 0.25 of a second. Pyeongchang Olympic gold medalist David Gleirscher, also of Austria, has seen his fortunes slip this year to where he recently lost his seeded status. After winning the Nations Cup event, Gleirscher rallied from sixth place in the final leg and took the bronze medal.
"At the moment, he (Loch) is playing with us," said Gleirscher.
Dominik Fischnaller was an uncharacteristic 10th in the race despite strong starts. Fischnaller is third on the campaign at 497. Defending World Cup champion, Roman Repilov, was sixth in the race and stands seventh overall.
In a tight and exciting competition, the top three in the final race standings were separated by a scant 0.01 of a second. Austrian World Cup leaders Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller established a second heat track record, the final such achievement in a weekend that saw the doubles mark drop five times by five different sleds.
The onslaught started with Canadians Tristan Walker and Justin Snith on Friday, followed by the two German teams of Toni Eggert/Sascha Benecken and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, and Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics, before Steu and Koeller ended it all on the final run of Saturday’s World Cup.
"That we now have the track record is awesome," said Steu. “Hopefully, it will stand for at least a year now."
The winners jumped up from fourth place at the intermission to win in 1 minute, 21.682 seconds. First heat leaders Wendl and Arlt, the four-time Olympic gold medalists, wound up 0.009 off the pace, with Sics and Sics third, just 0.016 from the lead.
Mazdzer and Terdiman had the 14th and 15th ranked runs, respectively, and were nearly a second from the winners.
Steu/Koeller have a tour-leading four World Cup gold medals this winter and stand atop the overall list with 741 points with three races to go. Two of those final three will be on their home track in Igls. They have seven medals in nine starts. Eggert/Benecken are nearly 100 points in arrears, followed in third place by Wendl/Arlt, just 12 points from their compatriots. The Latvians, both in their mid-30s, are fourth overall.
Sunday’s lone event – women’s singles – gets underway at 3 AM ET with a live stream on www.olympicchannel.com. NBC Sports Network will have coverage from Oberhof on Jan. 17 from midnight to 1 AM ET.