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Last call for the Sochi Express; Park City World Cup to officially decide 8 USA Luge Olympic berths | Dec 11, 2013
PARK CITY, Utah – Four luge World Cups completed with one more remaining prior to the holidays. At different points shortly thereafter all nations will decide their Olympic rosters for Sochi, Russia. Such is the scenario facing the World Cup luge elite as they take their training runs this week on the 2002 Olympic track in the Wasatch Mountains, outside the toney resort of Park City. Races are set for Dec. 13-14. USA Luge will announce its 10 Sochi nominees, pending United States Olympic Committee approval, in a gala event Saturday night that will be streamed live on the team’s website (www.usaluge.org). Each country can enter three men’s singles, three women’s singles and two doubles sleds. Team rosters for the new team relay in Sochi will be determined from the 10 members. To date, two United States athletes have verified their nominations. Chris Mazdzer’s fifth place several weeks ago, stamped his nomination. The Saranac Lake, N.Y. racer was a member of the 2010 Olympic team where he placed 13th. After his recent World Cup fifth place he recorded a career-topping World Cup silver medal last Friday night at frigid Whistler Mountain. Erin Hamlin’s fifth place effort the following evening secured her spot. Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., is headed to her third Winter Olympics. But also satisfying selection criteria were Kate Hansen, Tucker West and Aidan Kelly. Hansen, 2008 Junior World Champion from La Canada, Calif., has sixth and seventh place results thus far; West, 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist of Ridgefield, Conn., has posted a pair of 11th places; and Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., has one top 15 and two top 21 results in the books. Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, on home ice, hopes to infiltrate those ranks and force a tie-breaker. Hansen broke a bone in her foot in an October training accident on the Utah Olympic Park course. She overcame that to put herself in an advantageous position to secure a Sochi ticket. Another women’s singles athlete, the mercurial Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., is a junior with boundless potential. She has a World Cup eighth place to her credit this season. A top nine Friday achieves a criteria. And there’s 2010 Olympian and veteran racer Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine. A top five delivers her to Sochi, no questions asked. There is the possibility of a race-off, pending Friday’s results. Clukey will be supported in Park City by her mother and nephew, and will also have the confidence of knowing that three years ago on this layout, she scored a World Cup fifth. If Britcher and Clukey miss their marks, the door will open for Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn., and a three-way race-off would ensue. Sweeney, ironically, won the 2013 Junior World Championship 11 months ago in Park City. Finally three American doubles teams seek two Olympic berths. Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City have a slight upper hand as they need a top 13 on Friday to satisfy a selection criteria. Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich., and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa., require a top 10 to enter the selection mix. Two-time Olympian Christian Niccum of Woodinville, Wash., and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., must nail a top five on Friday to write their ticket to the mountains above the Russian Riviera. Again, the selection drama is based on the race results. Race times are 11:30 AM MST on Friday (doubles, women’s singles) and 11:15 AM MST on Saturday (men’s singles and team relay). Nations Cup qualifying will precede Thursday at 5 PM MST. All World Cup action will be streamed live on www.UniversalSports.com, with U.S. double Olympic medalist Brian Martin making his broadcast debut. There will also be live timing and scoring on www.fil-luge.org NBC Sports Network will air a two-hour show Monday night at 9 PM EST on the Park City competitions and U.S. Olympic team nominations.
Mazdzer bags 1st World Cup luge medal rallying from 4th place to take silver; West inches closer to Sochi berth | Dec 7, 2013
Mortensen/Griffall 9th in doubles brings them closer to Olympic team WHISTLER, British Columbia - American Chris Mazdzer executed a hair-raising second run Friday night, and hurtled two Germans en route to a World Cup luge silver medal on Whistler Mountain’s 2010 Olympic track. It was Mazdzer’s first career podium result, and came two weeks after finishing fourth and clinching a nomination to his second Olympic team. In the race held in brutally cold conditions above Whistler Village, Mazdzer became the first United States luge racer to score in the top three since a Tony Benshoof World Cup bronze medal in the 2006-2007 season. The last U.S. World Cup victory was Wendel Suckow’s gold medal in the Nagano pre-Olympic test event in 1997. "It came down to the wire. It was a high-risk, high-reward run," said Mazdzer. "I was on edge. It was a pretty sketchy run, but I kept it going straight most of the time. I was like a bowling ball going down the track, but I held on." Tucker West took 11th and has now satisfied a criteria for Olympic team nomination. He hopes to verify that status next week in Park City, Utah. Three men’s singles sliders will be on the start list in Sochi. Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City finished ninth in the doubles race and need a top 10 finish next Friday in Park City to nail down one of the two Olympic team nominations. Mazdzer lead a group of four American luge racers in the top 21 Friday night. The Saranac Lake, N.Y. athlete, who will compete in his second Olympic Games in two months, stood fourth at the intermission, just 0.006 of a second from third place. But a go-for-broke final heat hurtled him over Germans David Moeller, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and Andi Langenhan. Mazdzer was only topped by defending Olympic champion Felix Loch, also of Germany. The winner had the two fastest runs of the night, posting 48.258 and 48.428 seconds. His total of 1 minute, 36.686 seconds was nearly 0.3 clear of Mazdzer’s 1:36.978. "I felt so good in training," continued Mazdzer. "All my runs were spot on. I just went for it. I went for a little less friction (with the sled’s steel runners). Going down I could tell I was on the edge and holding on pretty much everywhere. "It’s so competitive in the sport right now. Anyone in the top six can medal. You have to have two really solid runs and be going for it. That’s what it takes. I understand the pressure. It’s taken an entire career to push through and not play safe." Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller, who has now positioned himself as a clear threat in Sochi with a gold and two bronze medals in four starts, was third in 1:36.981. Loch has won two of four races and leads the World Cup overall standings with 330 points. Moeller is second with 300, while Fischnaller is third with 295 points. Mazdzer improves to fifth place with 199, just behind Armin Zoeggeler, of Italy, who took an uncharacteristic 10th in the race. West, 18, qualified with a bronze medal in Thursday night’s Nations Cup event and continued that momentum into the World Cup, where an Olympic dream is close to reality. "It’s bad to say, but that’s all I was thinking about during the race," admitted West. ’Luckily I didn’t lose focus and it now gives me a sense of ease going into Park City. Now I can sit back and enjoy racing rather than trying to meet a criteria. It definitely takes a lot off the mind." Typically, U.S. equipment is predisposed to colder, harder ice, sensing its sleds run better in those conditions. But new technology is eliminating some of the weather concerns. "Dow and Norton have put a lot of work into my set-up," continued West. "I really think my sled is exactly where it needs to be. I’m excited. "I was a little nervous (before the race) because we hadn’t seen these cold conditions, but I put a little more edge on my steels for this week and it all seemed to work out fine." Teammates Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, and Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. took 17th and 21st places, respectively. Morris clocked 1:37.656 and has 80 World Cup points for 22nd place overall. Kelly recorded 1:37.901. He’s in 24th overall on 79 points. The United States doubles teams watched Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt continue their domination as the Americans chipped away at the Sochi 2014 selection criteria for Olympic team nomination. Two-time Olympian Christian Niccum of Woodinville, Wash and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. placed 12th, 0.7 of a second from the Germans. It’s their lone result in four World Cup starts that helps them in the selection process. They must finish in the top five a week from now or potentially enter a race-off if others do not satisfy a criteria. Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa., 19th Friday in 1:14.616, banked a 10th place last month and need another similar result in Park City to be chosen for Sochi. All Olympic luge teams will be finalized by the end of the night on Dec. 14, although in the case of the U.S., race-offs may be needed to complete the 10-person Sochi squad. Wendl and Arlt increased their lead in the overall World Cup standings. The winners were timed in 36.522 and 36.565 for a combined 1:13.087. It was their third win in four starts. Teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken were second in 1:13.171, with Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler third in 1:13.351. Wendl and Arlt have 385 World Cup points to the Eggert and Benecken total of 290. Penz and Fischler are next with 249. Mortensen and Griffall, timed in 1:13.558, are 10th with 119 points; the Niccum-Terdiman tandem is 14th with 104 points; Hyrns and Sherk are in a tie for 18th at 95 World Cup points. World Cup action resumes Saturday at 6 PM EST with women’s singles, followed by the team relay. Both races will be streamed live on www.UniversalSports.com, with live timing and scoring at www.fil-luge.org Above: Chris Mazdzer after securing his first-ever World Cup podium finish Above: Chris Mazdzer at the start of run #2 Above: Tucker West at the start of run #2 Above: Tucker West in Cuve 15 in Whistler, BC Above: Coach Bill Tavares reacts after Chris Mazdzer takes the silver medal Above: Matt Mortensen (left)and Preston Griffall after locking up ninth place Above: Christian Niccum (left) and Jayson Terdiman Above: Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk in the outrun of during World Cup #4 in Whistler, BC Audio Interviews with Chris Mazdzer , Tucker West and Mark Grimmette Results: Mens Doubles
Hamlin verifies nomination to 3rd Olympic team w/5th place at Whistler; Hansen gets much closer to Sochi berth | Dec 7, 2013
US finishes 4th in Team Relay, just .08 from the medals WHISTLER, British Columbia - The Opening Ceremony at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games will be held two months from tonight, and so far USA Luge Team members Chris Mazdzer, after a World Cup silver medal Friday night, and Erin Hamlin are verified as part of the 10-member unit that will represent the United States. Hamlin’s fifth place performance Saturday night, on the 2010 Olympic track that was a source of much frustration four years ago, secures her nomination. She came off the course and pumped her fists in celebration, the culmination of a goal that she discussed a few weeks ago. "It’s really nice to get it out of the way," said Hamlin. "It’s a big relief than going to the wire and then potentially racing off. So I feel a lot better and I can enjoy Salt Lake a little bit more." That was a reference to next week’s fifth World Cup stop on the 2002 Olympic track, followed by the formal announcement of the USA Luge Olympic contingent on Dec. 14. In the team relay, USA Luge took fourth place a week after claiming a World Cup silver medal in the event that will make its Olympic debut in February. "I’m excited (to get the top five)," Hamlin continued. "I’ve been so close so many times this season. It was nice to finally come through and pull it off." Tucker West and Kate Hansen are another two team members that are inching closer to Sochi. Both satisfied a selection criteria this weekend. West did so last night, while Hansen finished right behind Hamlin in sixth place. "I’m gonna cry," she stated from the leader’s box. "It’s pretty unbelievable. I was nervous about this race. I had a rough week in training so I’m grateful I put down two clean runs. That’s been a recurring theme this entire season. It’s something new. I’m not used to it. It’s a new feeling. Every week I call it a Christmas miracle because I still can’t believe it." West and Hansen are among the U.S. racers using the new Norton/Dow/US Steel/Clarkson collaboration in technology. "With the hard ice this week, I could feel the Dow kufens (runners) react," Hansen added. "I think they perform really well on this ice. It’s a great partnership that we have. They have led to a lot of successes so far and we’re not even half way through the season." All four Americans finished in the top 15 on Whistler’s short, but very fast course. Julia Clukey, a 2010 Olympian from Augusta, Maine, was 10th, and Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., 15th. A top nine effort for either in next week’s World Cup event in Park City, Utah satisfies a Sochi selection criteria. The potential exists, however, for a race-off on Dec. 14 to decide unresolved Sochi nominations in all disciplines. Each nation may enter three sleds each in men’s and women’s singles and two doubles teams at the Sanki Sliding Centre in Krasnaya Polyana. The women’s singles race saw World Cup leader Natalie Geisenberger win her fourth straight World Cup singles race. She has the tour lead with a perfect 400 World Cup points. The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist had the best runs of the night. She was timed in 36.720 and 36.692 seconds for a two-heat total of 1 minute, 13.412 seconds. Canadian Alex Gough, who collected silver in both the singles and later in the team relay, was next in 1:13.545. Anke Wischnewski also of Germany, held down the bronze medal time of 1:13.622. Defending Olympic champion, Tatyana Huefner, raced through back problems early in the season. She finished fourth, just 0.02 of a second from the podium. Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., had the fifth best runs of each heat on another cold night at Whistler-Blackcomb. The 2009 World Champion’s aggregate time was 1:13.803. Hansen was sixth in 1:13.851. Clukey took 10th in 1:14.001 and Britcher 15th in 1:14.173. Geisenberger’s overall World Cup lead is 400-261 over Gough. Huefner is in third with 260 points. Hamlin, with all four results between fifth and eighth places, is fifth with 197 points; Hansen is tied for ninth at 146; Clukey 13th with 120; and Britcher is tied for 19th with 89 points. Germany rebounded after last week’s uncharacteristic debacle in the team relay by defeating Canada by 0.4 of a second. The stacked German deck had all of their weekend race winners, namely Geisenberger, Felix Loch and the doubles sled of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Their combined time was 2:03.791. Canada clocked 2:04.202, with Austria third in 2:04.686, followed by the American quartet of Hamlin, Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. and the doubles unit of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City. They registered a time of 2:04.769. The World Cup tour leaves Sunday for Park City, the final stop Sochi qualifying procedure. Doubles and women’s singles will compete on Friday, with men’s singles and the team relay on Saturday. USA Luge will announce its Olympic nominees in a gala event Dec. 14 in the Utah Olympic Park museum. The event will be streamed live on www.usaluge.org. Results: Women Relay Interviews: Erin Hamlin Kate Hansen Chris Mazdzer Above: Kate Hansen (left) and Erin Hamlin celebrate in the finish Above: Erin Hamlin at the start during World Cup #4 in WHistler, BC on December 7, 2014 Above: Erin focused at the start Above: Erin Hamlin climbs up the outrun Above: USA Luge Sports Program Director Mark Grimmette with Erin after the first heat Above: Kate Hansen at the start Above: Kate Hansen celebrates after finishing 6th in World Cup #4 Above: Summer Britcher after posting a solid second run Above: Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall wait for Chris Mazdzer, left, to open the relay gate.
Wild ride in team relay as steady US scores silver in Winterberg; Women finish 6-7 | Dec 1, 2013
L to R: Team USA, Italy and Austria, the top three teams from the relay event at the third World Cup event of the 2013-14 season. Photo: West World Media. Above: Tucker West, Jayson Terdiman, Christian Niccum and Kate Hansen, World Cup #3 relay silver medal winners. Photo: West World Media Above: Kate Hansen negotiates the start curve during World Cup #3 in Winterberg, Germany. AP Photo WINTERBERG, Germany - And sports fans thought the Auburn-Alabama football game had an exciting finish Saturday night. In the team relay Sunday in Winterberg, Germany, the United States foursome of Kate Hansen and Tucker West in singles, with the doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman illustrated that the strong do survive. The group put down three consistent runs to collect a silver medal as teams around them faltered, crashed, had a bad start, missed the touch pad, were disqualified or all of the above. In that mix, the German unit, winners of seven straight relays and nine of the past 10 going back to the 2012-2013 season, finished last. Such is the excitement and unpredictability of this new Olympic sport which makes its debut in Sochi. "We just finished second. What a great race," exclaimed West, 18, of Ridgefield, Conn., who won a gold medal in this event nearly two years ago in the Youth Olympic Games. "We had a crazy race today," added Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. "We had a great time and a little magic happened at the end. The Germans made a little mistake and gave us our silver medal." With the U.S. sitting in second place, the last two nations made unexpected errors. Canada was disqualified when the doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith inadvertently touched the start gate and it opened. The next team, Germany, had its lead athlete, Natalie Geisenberger, execute a bad start shortly after winning the women’s singles race that preceded the team relay. The gaffes by both teams kept the U.S. in the runner-up position right behind Italy and in front of Austria. Italy’s gold medal time was 2 minutes, 25.874 seconds. The Americans posted 2:26.380, and Austria registered 2:27.041. "It was a great day. We had some newcomers in the team comp," said Niccum, a two-time Olympian from Woodinville, Wash. "Tucker and Kate did a great job. Racing gets crazy here in Winterberg sometimes. People have to go from different starts (men and women begin at the doubles start) and it’s definitely challenging. Tucker and Kate did a good job to get it down the hill, and Jayson and I did our part to make it to the finish and it all worked out in the end." Adding to the drama was the fact that Niccum and Terdiman substituted for Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall due to Mortensen’s sore elbow. The achievement marked the first career World Cup medals for Hansen and West, who are benefitting from developing technology by Norton and US Steel, along with runner designs by Dow and more comfortable pods by Clarkson University. "I am super stoked to win my first career World Cup medal," stated Hansen of La Canada, Calif. "I had a great team backing me up today and had a lot of fun in my first team comp. I’m super excited and can’t wait to bring it (the medal) home to show my whole family." Earlier in women’s singles, the U.S. had strength in numbers as two-time Olympian Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., and Olympic hopeful Hansen finished 6th and 7th, respectively, on the demanding Winterberg track. 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey was 13th. "My runs were both a little sloppy in different places," replayed Hamlin. "But I cleaned both up in different parts of the track. I’m very happy with my sixth place finish. It keeps me painfully close to that fifth place (which would verify her nomination to the Sochi team). Going to North America I’m really excited and hopefully I can get into the top five." Hamlin has been in the top eight every week thus far and has satisfied a criteria for Olympic team nomination. The 2009 World Champion had a two-heat time of 1:54.503. She is sixth overall with 142 World Cup points. Hansen has two top 12 places to date and is closing in on achieving Olympic nomination status. Another top 12 would satisfy a nomination criteria. Finally able to eschew crutches after breaking a bone in her right foot in October, the 2008 Junior World Champion had a time of 1:54.605. Hansen is 11th overall with 96 World Cup points, while Clukey, with 1:54.870 for her two attempts Sunday, is tied for 13th with 84. Germany laid claim to all the medals, as Geisenberger won for the third straight week, defeating Vancouver Olympic gold medalist Tatyana Huefner by 0.44 of a second. Anke Wischnewski grabbed the bronze medal, nearly 0.7 off the pace. Geisenberger, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist as well as current World Champion and World Cup champion, had the fastest times of the day, clocking 56.998 and 56.459 seconds for a total of 1:53.457. She leads the overall World Cup rankings with a perfect 300 points. Huefner, whose ailing back is improving, recorded 1:53.897 and is second overall with 200 points. Wischnewski’s third place time was 1:54.101. She is third at 186. The World Cup tour now jets off to Vancouver for races on Friday and Saturday on the 2010 Olympic track at Whistler, B.C. That will be followed by a World Cup stop Dec. 13-14 in Park City, Utah. The U.S. Olympic Luge Team will be officially nominated on the night of Dec. 14 at the Utah Olympic Park in a gala event that will be streamed live on www.usaluge.org. # # # Team relay interviews with silver medalists Tucker West , Jayson Terdiman , Christian Niccum and Kate Hansen Interview with 6th place finisher Erin Hamlin A live Weather Channel report from Winterberg featuring Chris Mazdzer and Erin Hamlin, plus a live report from the USA Luge indoor start training facility Results: Relay Women
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