Jonny Gustafson on the ice in St. Moritz, Switzerland on January 22. 2022. Photo: Sandro Halank
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – On the penultimate day of the Eberspacher World Cup luge season, first-time Olympic nominee Jonny Gustafson tied his season’s best with a 14th place effort on the long, natural ice track in glitzy St. Moritz. The Massena, N.Y. native was the top-ranked American man on the season in 20th place overall.
Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, nominated to his fourth Olympic team, finished 18th in the last men’s singles event of the World Cup season.
The unforgettable course begins on the edge of the village and concludes over 1,700 meters later in Celerina.
Much of its charm stems from the fact that it is hand-hewn each season with ice trucked to the site from nearby Lake St. Moritz. As a result, it is never exactly the same but always greatly anticipated by all sliding athletes. St. Moritz offers the oldest track in the world, dating back to 1904. It may also have the scariest beginning with the Dracula start house.
Temperatures were in the 20s on an overcast day, perfect for the preferred resort destination of the planet’s kings, queens and sheiks. The movers and shakers of this sliding sport enjoyed these conditions, too, after last year’s snowstorm.
Gustafson’s two individual heats were 14th and 11th best, respectively. Mazdzer, meanwhile, has been taking care of a sore neck recently and is getting himself completely healthy for the men’s Olympic race starting two weeks from today in Yanqing, China. Tucker West did not qualify in Friday’s Nations Cup.
Mazdzer’s final rank on the World Cup this season was 22nd, while West was 23rd.
The St. Moritz program began with the final doubles race of the season. USA Luge literally had no skin in the game.
The doubles team of Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman, after training and competing together for four years, were eliminated from Olympic consideration in the race-off two weeks ago.
The team of Dana Kellogg/Duncan Segger, likewise, were beaten for the lone Olympic berth by Zack DiGregorio and Sean Hollander. Kellogg and Segger returned to Lake Placid to continue training.
Instead of competing in Oberhof and St. Moritz, the newest doubles team, DiGregorio/Hollander, were dispatched to Park City, Utah for two weeks of additional training on Terdiman’s sled. The idea was to get them more prepared and comfortable on their teammate’s equipment. The athletes received many more runs in Utah than the seven trips per week they would have been afforded on the international circuit.
DiGregorio/Hollander were helped at the Utah Olympic Park by head coach Robert Fegg as well Terdiman and local national team singles slider Brittney Arndt, who narrowly missed qualifying for Beijing.
The entire collaboration was designed to give the young doubles team – they only came together in the summer of 2020 – the best opportunity to succeed in Beijing. Completing the team’s family approach to success, Arndt’s father, Jesse Arndt who is a club slider through the Wasatch Luge Club, recently completed the Beijing paint job of the DiGregorio/Hollander/Terdiman missile.
“This has been a great Olympic preparation,” remarked Fegg. “The sled has worked out great, with all changes bang on. They have been sliding very consistent with good speed. Their times have been very favorable compared to Britt, and the track crew bent over backwards to give us what we needed.
“I think as we leave here, we have done everything possible to give them the chance to perform well in Yanqing.”
The doubles team, along with Fegg, will join the remainder of the Olympic team in the coming days for the final journey to the Olympic Winter Games. The Opening Ceremony will take place Feb. 4 in China/Feb. 3 in the United States.
A massive late-season rally brought the German pair of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken to the World Cup overall crown and the Joska crystal that comes with it. They won three of the last four events including St. Moritz, and four of the final six to overtake the Latvian Sics brothers, who held the weekly lead all season until the end.
It was Eggert/Benecken’s sixth World Cup title to go with eight World Championships and the 2018 Olympic bronze medal.
Andris and Juris Sics, triple Olympic medal winners, could do no better than fifth in the finale for the second straight week after claiming three gold medals and eight podium results this winter.
"We expected much colder conditions, so we had the wrong setup for the first run," said front man Andris Sics. “The run was actually not bad, but we didn't have the speed."
Eggert/Benecken totaled 1 minute, 47.209 seconds. They had the two fastest legs of the event in winning for the 51st time in their careers. The Latvians rallied from eighth place after one run with the third best final heat. They finished 24 World Cup points behind the Germans who totaled 907.
Teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, four-time Olympic champions, were second in the race by 0.11 of a second and third in the final World Cup standings.
Sics teammates Martins Bots and Robert Plume, also heading to Beijing, were the bronze medal winners, marking their second podium of the compacted season that has seen nine World Cup meets in a span of 10 weeks.
The four sleds are expected to contend for Beijing glory on Feb. 9, along with Austria’s Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller. The 2021 World Cup champions were sixth in this competition and sixth overall despite Steu’s broken foot. This caused the team to miss five of 12 starts. Nevertheless, they accumulated two gold medals, two silvers and one bronze in an abbreviated campaign.
Bulletin: No Germans on the podium.
After winning two world championships in 2017, Wolfgang Kindl hit on some hard times. A back issue and a disqualification in Lake Placid three years ago sent the Austrian tumbling down leaderboards. But this year, his body and results have been re-Kindl-ed, capped by a victory in the singles race and a track-load of momentum leading to the Olympic Games.
Kindl stood third after one heat, trailing leader Dominik Fischnaller of Italy and World Cup overall winner Johannes Ludwig of Germany. Ludwig mathematically secured the crown last week in Oberhof.
But uncharacteristically, the two at the top skidded badly in their final attempts and were sent reeling from the medals. Kindl took advantage with the best second leg time, where he exceeded 90 (ninety) miles-per-hour in defeating Kristers Aparjods of Latvia by merely 0.02 of a second.
Kindl clocked a combined 2:10.246 in winning his 10th World Cup event and winding up second in the overall World Cup rankings. Aparjods medaled for the fourth time (two gold, two silver) this year. The bronze medal went to Kindl’s compatriot Nico Gleirscher, who trailed by 0.3 of a second.
Both Austrians will be joined in Beijing by Nico’s brother, David Gleirscher, the defending Olympic gold medalist. Teammate Reinhard Egger, after 22 years in the sport, competed Saturday for the final time. He admitted afterward that the realization today was “brutally emotional”.
Felix Loch of Germany, fourth in the race, took third in the final season-long standings.
Despite his second run problems, Ludwig, who won gold and bronze medals in 2018 and captured the Beijing pre-Olympic race in November by a large margin, enters the Games as a favorite.
"I wanted to enjoy St. Moritz because it's a beautiful track and huge fun to slide," said Ludwig after finishing 11th. "I actually did, except for the second run before the Horseshoe. I don't really know what happened - two walls, a drift."
Fischnaller, fourth in Pyeongchang by only 0.002 of a second, is expected to be in the medal mix next month. He was eighth Saturday. Fischnaller will be joined in Italy by cousin Kevin Fischnaller and Leon Felderer, sixth in St. Moritz.
The World Cup season will conclude Sunday with some expected drama in both women’s singles and the team relay. Both of those disciplines will be decided on the final day.
Live streaming will be offered on Olympics.com starting at 3:40 AM EST.
FINAL APPROACH TO BEIJING
There is one significant X factor as Beijing looms closer. Training on this new, lengthy and unique track, with shallow curve angles and some uphill sections, was very limited due to the pandemic. All nations, other than China, had equal non-access to it. Such a level playing field can produce interesting results.
Men’s training begins Feb. 1, with singles competition commencing Feb. 5 at the Yanqing National Sliding Center. Unlike the World Cup and World Championships, both singles events are four heats over two nights. Doubles (two runs) and the team relay (three runs with a continually running clock) remain unchanged and are contested in one session each.