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Germans take advantage of home ice as 50th luge World Championships begin

By Sandy Caligiore | Jan. 29, 2021, 12:19 p.m. (ET)

KOENIGSSEE, Germany – USA Luge finished seventh and 12th Friday in Koenigssee as the 50th Eberspacher World Championships got underway with the one-heat sprint competition in all three events.

Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., qualified fourth fastest to advance to the final. The two-time Olympian took seventh in the medal round as Germans grabbed the top four spots. West, meanwhile, qualified 13th. Later, the 2014 and 2018 Olympian from Ridgefield, Conn. wound up in 12th place.

The sprint race begins at each discipline’s traditional start height, but the timing does not trigger until about 100 meters below the handles. Only the top 15 in each division move into the medal round.

West and Britcher were the lone Americans to advance out of the morning qualification. Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer had the worst of the luck Friday, qualifying 16th in singles. The Salt Lake City resident was only 0.001 of a second from 15th place. Mazdzer, in doubles, teamed with Sochi and Pyeongchang Olympian Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. They wound up 16th in the qualifying round on a day in Bavaria that saw temperatures rise into the mid-40s after significant snowfall earlier in the week.

German women and doubles teams accounted for five of the nine medals awarded on the first day of the competition, which was originally scheduled for Whistler, B.C. It was relocated to Koenigssee as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Ironically, neither Felix Loch nor Natalie Geisenberger, both of Germany, won a medal in the sprint race despite their domination of the World Cup schedule in the eight events held to date. Loch clinched the overall World Cup chase last weekend, while his teammate is the current World Cup leader with one event remaining.

Other U.S. qualification results: Jonny Gustafson, Massena, N.Y., 23rd; Emily Sweeney, Lake Placid, tied for 24th after posting the second fastest time at the first interval; Ashley Farquharson, Park City, Utah, 26th; Brittney Arndt, Park City, 35th.

SPRINT WOMEN

Germany’s Julia Taubitz found herself advancing from the outhouse to the penthouse in a matter of a few hours. The 2019-2020 World Cup overall champion finished an uncharacteristic 14th in qualifying. But that meant Taubitz would be second down the track with good ice in the medal round. She threw down the best time and then stood in the leader’s box watching 13 other racers chase her time unsuccessfully.

"The gold medal means a lot to me," said a tearful Taubitz. "But the individual race has a higher significance. There are two real runs that have to fit. But it is a gold medal at a World Championship."

Taubitz, in claiming her second World Championship crown, defeated teammate Anna Berreiter by a scant 0.01 of a second. Berreiter touched the left wall entering the start curve, but held the lead through the length of the track until the finish light. The bronze medal went to Dajana Eitberger, with Geisenberger in fourth place. 0.22 from the winner.

Victoriia Demchenko of the Russian Luge Federation set the pace with the fastest qualifying run, only to settle for fifth place at the end. Britcher’s one-run time was 0.3 behind Taubitz.

SPRINT MEN

When qualifying got underway, the story looked to be the same as it’s been all winter. Loch has won nine of 11 World Cup starts, and the morning session with the entire field trying to advance, looked to be more of the same. Loch set the pace with the fastest qualifying time by over 0.1 of a second. But the story changed when the medals were on the line. It’s interesting to note that the two events to date this season that Loch hasn’t won were sprint races. With the World Championship on the line, he slipped back to fourth place as the Austrian Gleirscher brothers, Nico and David, dominated the race.

"It started small, but then became huge and had a huge impact in S1 and S2," explained Loch of the problems he incurred early in the run. "Then the momentum is gone."

David Gleirscher, who won the 2018 Olympic gold medal when Loch faltered in the final heat, raced to a bronze medal Friday. His younger brother won a World Championship medal for the first time, and made it really count. Nico’s gold medal time, despite touching several walls, put him 0.04 clear of Russian Semen Pavlichenko. David Gleirscher was 0.001 behind Pavlichenko’s silver medal time. This was also the first time the brothers had ever shared the podium. Their achievements must have made father Gerhard Gleirscher, the 1997 World Championship bronze medalist, especially proud.

The Gleirschers biggest threat Friday was teammate Wolfgang Kindl, a double World Champion in 2017. Kindl had the fastest split times until exiting the 360-degree Kriesel (circle) too high and crossed to the right. The diminutive Austrian dangerously lost complete contact with the track, squandered gulps of time, and lumbered across the finish line in 15th place.

SPRINT DOUBLES

When you’ve won nearly 50 times on the World Cup tour, and hold four Olympic gold medals, a season with just one victory might be viewed as mundane. Such is the 2020-2021 campaign for Germans Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. One gold, three silvers and a bronze medal is cause to celebrate in many corners, but not so much with these two. They are fourth in the World Cup standings, and last week in Igls, they didn’t threaten the podium in either race. When the twosome qualified sixth fastest Friday morning, it appeared the story would continue. But something seems to get their attention when you put the most important medals on the line.

"We analyzed it again, reworked everything," said Arlt. “Fortunately, it went in the right direction."

After Wendl/Arlt won Friday’s World Championship sprint gold medal, we see in retrospect that the past few months might have been the Great German Setup - two sliders who thrive on the big moments came through this season when it mattered most. At the winter’s highlight event on their home course, the Tobis as they are known, edged their way past the Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics by only 0.01 of a second on their way to the title.

As satisfied as the Germans were with this latest triumph, it was just the second-best thing to happen to Wendl this week. On Tuesday he became father to his newborn son.

"This is the perfect week, a jackpot week," said the 33-year-old from Berchtesgaden. "I'm at a loss for words right now."

It was the ninth world title for Wendl/Arlt and 15th career medal in World Championship racing.

The Sics bros are in their mid-30s, but they still know how to bring a sled down any track. Their speed into the timing eye wasn’t scintillating, but they used the remainder of the track to close the gap with their experience and guile. Who knows – another 50 meters and maybe they hold the world sprint title instead, but not on this day.

Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, also of Germany, picked up the bronze medal, just 0.03 from their compatriots.

World Cup overall doubles champions Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller of Austria outpaced all sleds in leading the qualifying round, but could only muster a fourth-place effort in the run for the medals.

"In the qualification, we were still super-fast,” replayed Steu. “In the final in the afternoon, it was not enough for the podium. The run was not bad, but we should do better tomorrow.”

The Austrians ended a run of eight straight years when the overall tour championship was captured by either Wendl/Arlt or Eggert/Benecken.

World Championship action resumes Saturday with the traditional two-heat races in doubles and men’s singles, starting at 3:30 AM ET. Watch the live stream at www.olympicchannel.com

Broadcast coverage is set for Saturday 2:30-3:30 PM ET on NBC, followed by Sunday 6-8 PM ET on NBCSN. Paul Burmeister and 2014 Olympian Kate Hansen will provide the commentary.

MEDAL COUNT (Gold, Silver, Bronze)

Germany (2-1-2)

Austria (1-0-1)

Russian Luge Federation (0-1-0)

Latvia (0-1-0)

RESULTS