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
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.
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
Above: Hyrns and Sherk in the finish after their second run in Winterberg, Germany on November 30. AP photo. WINTERBERG, Germany - The USA Luge doubles team of Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa., led the way Saturday in 10th place for the United States, at a World Cup event in Winterberg, Germany. Other U.S. doubles sleds placed 16th and 17th with Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman and the team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall, respectively. The latter unit sat in seventh place at the intermission. "We had an OK first run," said Hyrns, whose sled clocked a two-heat time of 1 minute, 28.674 seconds. "We almost crashed off (curve) 13 and kept it straight and didn’t skid. The second run was better, but it was somehow slower. I can’t really complain about it. We had a good run finally on a race day. We had bad training during the week....can’t be too angry about it." Their time placed the team 1.18 seconds behind German winners and World Cup overall leaders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. The second half of the luge doubleheader - men’s singles - saw Winterberg live up to its name. By translation it means "winter town" and it turned into that as heavy snow fell midway through the men’s first heat. This forced the race jury to cancel the run, relegating the event to a one-heat shoot-out that was won by German rookie Chris Eissler in 52.938 seconds. Eissler’s victory occurred in his first-ever World Cup start. He admitted later that the conditions, coupled with an early start number, may have helped. "The snow started around the fifth or sixth slider," said U.S. Program Director and double Olympic medalist Mark Grimmette. "When the snow hit the upper part of the track it was freezing to the ice and when they (track workers) tried to sweep the ice they couldn’t take it away. That left the later starters at a big disadvantage." All four Americans finished in the top 16, highlighted by 18 year old Tucker West, in a tie for 11th place, his best World Cup result to date. Another top 15 or two top 21 finishes would enable the Ridgefield, Conn. athlete to satisfy a criteria for Olympic team nomination. "I was happy with the run," said West, who posted 53.192 and deadlocked with Germany’s Andi Langenhan. "The weather wasn’t great here, but that’s how racing works. I’m happy that it ended like that. Being the fastest American today I’ve earned a spot in the team relay (Sunday). I’m really excited for this. I won a gold medal in the 2012 Youth Olympics. I really love that race. I have a fast reaction, a fast start, so it plays to my benefit and hopefully it works out tomorrow." Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., was 14th in 53.210. He needs a top 21 performance in the final two weeks. Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., secured his second Olympic berth a week ago and is nursing a sore shoulder. He recorded the 15th place time of 53.224. "It was a little disappointing today but overall things went well in Winterberg," said Mazdzer. "All four of us were in the top 20 and that’s excellent for the U.S. team. I had a lot speed going into the bottom today but this run was over a second faster than my fastest training run and unfortunately I messed up the bottom which cost me some valuable spots." Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, took 16th in 53.228. Eissler, fifth, sixth and 12th at the Junior World Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, defeated Armin Zoeggeler of Italy by 0.04 of a second. The five-time Olympic medalist, set to be his country’s 2014 flagbearer in Sochi, finally secured his 100th career World Cup medal. Two-time World Champion and 2010 Olympic silver medalist David Moeller was third, another 0.01 back, in 52.994. Moeller heads the World Cup season long standings after three of nine events. His total of 240 points leads compatriot Felix Loch, fourth Saturday, by just 10 points. Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller is third with 225 points. Mazdzer is in sixth place with 114; West is tied for 20th with 62; Kelly is 23rd with 59; Morris is 24th at 56 World Cup points. After Sunday’s women’s singles and team relay races, the World Cup leaves Europe for a month, with the next two stops in North America. Hyrns is now anticipating a return to the friendly confines of racing much closer to home. "Going to North America next week is going to be really, really nice. Finally getting closer to our own time zone, and be able to contact family a little more and be around English speaking people." With just two events remaining prior to the break and Olympic team nomination, the talk will turn more and more to the nomination criteria. Sherk, however, is just focused on the steps that will lead to the desired result. "As far as the Olympic process goes, I honestly don’t know where we stand," he stated. "But at the current time we’re just trying to focus on races and put down the best results possible. "Going back (to North America) will be really great....being around people who speak our language, have good internet, better food. It’ll be more enjoyable knowing the holiday break is coming up." The result gives puts Hyrns and Sherk in a position to satisfy qualification criteria. They still need two top thirteen finishes in the next two weeks, or one top 10, or one top five. Niccum, a two-time Olympian from Woodinville, Wash. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., were 16th in 1:30.48. The duo must finish twice in the top 10 or once in the top five with events in Whistler, B.C. and Park City, Utah in the coming weeks. Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Griffall of Salt Lake City, 13th on opening day in Lillehammer, Norway, were 17th in 1:30.363. They need a top 10 and a top 13 in the next two races, or two top ten, or one top five. Their resume shows a fifth place World Cup effort in Park City three seasons ago. Two of the three doubles sleds will compete in Sochi. However if the process is not completely resolved in any discipline after the Utah World Cup, a race-off will be held on Dec. 14. The Olympic quota in singles is three men and three women. The U.S. Olympic Luge Team will be officially nominated that night in a gala event at the Utah Olympic Park. Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany, returned to the top of the podium Saturday with a half-second victory over Italians Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber. The German win came easier when their teammates, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, crashed at the end of the second heat. They were in second place at the time. Wendl and Arlt had run times of 43.708 and 43.783 for a total of 1:27.491. Oberstolz and Gruber took silver in 1:28.040, while Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, Austria’s lone doubles entry, collected bronze in 1:28.097. Their teammates and two-time defending Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger (brothers) did not compete, telling the FIL that personal business back home necessitated their return. Austria’s young doubles unit of Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller did not start the second run. Wendl and Arlt have 285 World Cup points, followed by Oberstolz and Gruber with Eggert and Benecken, tied at 205. Mortensen and Griffall are 14th with 80 points; Hyrns and Sherk are 18th with 73; Niccum and Terdiman are 19th with 72 points. Two more competitions on Sunday will conclude the Winterberg program. Women’s singles and the team relay are set to begin at 4:40 AM EST. Both races will be streamed live on Universal Sports , with live timing and scoring at www.fil-luge.org. VIDEO interviews (Courtesy of USA Luge and West World Media) Jake Hyrns (right)/Andrew Sherk part 1 2 3 Tucker West part 1 , 2 Christian Niccum/Jayson Terdiman Aidan Kelly Chris Mazdzer Mark Grimmette discusses the weather-related challenges after the first heat of the men’s competition. Results : Doubles Men
Hansen, West, Morris, Kelly (singles); Mortensen/Griffall, Hyrns/Sherk (doubles) all advance WINTERBERG, Germany - After Julia Clukey’s best season, highlighted by a World Cup luge silver medal last February and an overall World Cup ranking of sixth, the bad luck through the first two races of the Road to Sochi season had now become annoying. So much so, that with 19th and 12th place finishes prior to this week’s events in Winterberg, the Augusta, Maine athlete was relegated to competing in the Nations Cup, which serves as a World Cup qualifying race. But the 2010 Olympian responded by capturing Friday’s race and putting herself into Sunday’s women’s World Cup. Teammates Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman did the same in doubles, rebounding from their struggles during training earlier in the week, to also collect a Nations Cup gold medal. "It’s been a while since I’ve raced in one of these, so I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous," said Clukey. "More so than for a World Cup because it’s one and done. I was pretty frustrated with my (World Cup) race in Igls (Austria). I had two good starts, two good runs, but my places didn’t show." Falling snow a week ago and warm weather coupled with a late start number prior to that stymied the top-ranked U.S. athlete entering the season. "I’m thankful for the coaches for helping me fight back and play with the sled a little bit. I’m feeling really confident going into Sunday." The 35 year old Niccum, a two-time Olympian and four-time junior world champion in the 1990s, and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., were timed in 44.160 seconds for a 0.1 of a second triumph. "The key today is to qualify for the World Cup," remarked Niccum, the front driver. "Luckily the weather conditions are a little rainy today but it didn’t affect us. We went out sixth and the track conditions stayed good. All we had to do was lay down and overcome what we learned in training and make it to the finish." Niccum is returning after missing most of last season recovering from Achilles surgery. He and Terdiman only raced at the World Cup final / pre-Olympic test in Sochi. After beginning the World Cup season slowly - a missed cut in the Nations Cup, followed by 14th in Igls - they might be catching their stride. "We were fortunate enough to put down a pretty solid run," added Terdiman. "We’re qualified for tomorrow’s World Cup and hopefully the weather holds up a little better than this. It’s raining right now. Hopefully it dries out and we have a good solid race tomorrow." Teammates Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City were fourth, 0.26 behind the winners. Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa. took 10th in 44.832. All three teams will participate in Saturday’s World Cup doubles. Compared to a week ago Igls short sprint track is in marked contrast to Winterberg, where the icy chute is some 17 seconds longer from the women’s start. Clukey’s run time of 57.331 defeated German Dajana Eitberger by 0.02 of a second. The final U.S. athlete to advance Friday was 2008 Junior World Champion Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif. Hansen was seventh, nearly 0.4 behind Clukey, in 57.726. But equally noteworthy was Hansen’s achievement on Thursday. Faced with the conclusion of a race-off with Emily Sweeney in which the loser was eliminated from Olympic team consideration, Hansen, the 2013 Norton National Champion and winner of the fall seeding series, struggled through the training week, but put down two good runs to remain with the national team for next three World Cup events. "I was lucky enough to put some clean runs together," said Hansen. "It has been a rough week but I’m hoping for some clean runs this weekend." She dealt a blow to the Olympic hopes of Sweeney, the 2013 Junior World Champion from Suffield, Conn., who remains in the selection process based on others results. Sweeney could take part in a race-off Dec. 14 in Park City, Utah if positions for the Sochi team are not secured through the next three World Cup meets. "I’m emotionally drained to say the least," continued Hansen. "Emily deserves it just as much so it was hard to beat her out on something we have worked so hard for together. This is the first time it hasn’t really felt good to win." The two were in a similar situation four years ago when they joined Sweeney’s sister, Megan, in a race-off for the final Vancouver women’s berth. Megan Sweeney emerged victorious on that day in Lillehammer, Norway. This race-off actually started last week in Igls where Hansen edged Sweeney by only 0.01 of a second. The winner’s runs Thursday, however, were more decisive, leading to a margin of victory in excess of 0.2 of a second. Clukey and Hansen will join two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y. on Sunday in a resumption of the World Cup season and U.S. Olympic qualifying. Hamlin has posted two top nine efforts to date and has satisfied a selection criteria. A top five would seal the deal for her. Hamlin’s first seed World Cup status exempts her from these Friday Nations Cup face-offs. Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., did not qualify Friday after scoring a World Cup eighth last week in just her second career start. Halfway through a U.S. men’s Olympic selection process that has become wide open for the final two spots, Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn., led the Americans once again. A week after his Nations Cup victory in Igls, Austria the 18 year old finished 10th in a race that saw Russia sweep the medals. West clocked 53.344 in a heat that saw him headed to another victory at the penultimate split time, before errors dropped him down the list. West’s time put him 0.23 off the winning pace. The Youth Olympic Games gold medalist was trying to hang on for the second straight week. Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah was 11th in 53.364, with Aidan Kelly of W. Islip, N.Y., 19th in 53.491. All three U.S. athletes qualified for Saturday’s World Cup men’s singles race, joining Chris Mazdzer in the field. Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y. is exempt from Nations Cup qualifying. He will be nominated to his second Olympic team on Dec. 14, having secured the designation with a World Cup personal best fourth place last weekend. Joe Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y., did not advance in Friday’s event. Doubles and men’s singles racing begins Saturday at 3:40 AM EST. Women’s singles and the team relay are set for Sunday. World Cup action this weekend will be streamed live on Universal Sports , with live timing andscoring on the FIL website . VIDEO INTERVIEWS (Courtesy of USA Luge/West World Media) Kate Hansen after the race-off with Emily Sweeney Niccum/Terdiman: http://usaluge.org/team/NTNC31314a.mov http://usaluge.org/team/NTNC31314c.mov http://usaluge.org/team/NTNC31314d.mov Julia Clukey RESULTS Women Doubles Men
WINTERBERG, Germany - Turkeys and touchdowns. A tradition every American knows too well. Thanksgiving Day is arguably the most anticipated American holiday on the calendar. The United States virtually shuts down so folks can visit family, and hunker down for a feast that would make the pilgrims proud, usually with Lions and Bears playing on a television set in the background, although this year, it’s Lions and Packers. More people travel for this holiday than Christmas, New Year’s and grandma’s birthday, combined. But lots of Americans don’t get this experience, particularly winter sports athletes who, in some cases, will be worlds away on this Thanksgiving holiday. Such is the cost of traveling the Road to Sochi. "This will be Thanksgiving number 12 spent away so it’s kind of the norm now," said two-time USA Luge Olympian Erin Hamlin. "I still Skype into dinner at home though, as long as they start eating early enough." Training for the Winterberg World Cup races run from Wednesday through Friday, but for the U.S. team, there must be time for the great American eating pastime. "We ALWAYS have Thanksgiving," exclaimed the Remsen, N.Y. racer. "And we will have our third annual Turkey Bowl. The luge team has mad football skills." One of the key figures behind the team’s Thanksgiving-away-from-home concept is assistant coach Bill Tavares, a member of the U.S. Army. "Bill actually stocked us up on some stuff from the U.S. base in Garmisch (Germany)," continued Hamlin. "So we will have a few familiar items this year. Tradition dictates that the youngest member of the team always gives the Thanksgiving speech so Tucker (West) has been mentally preparing for his second one." Once the Thanksgiving table is cleared, it’ll be time to concentrate on the third weekend of racing. Nations Cup qualification on Friday will lead into the World Cup action on Saturday and Sunday. Thus far, 2010 Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the lone U.S. luger to earn a nomination to the Sochi Olympic team. Hamlin, who satisfied the selection criteria last Saturday with her second top nine result in as many weeks, could join Mazdzer by verifying with a top five race this weekend. The 10-member U.S. Olympic Luge Team will be nominated on Dec. 14 in Park City, Utah.
IGLS, Austria - It’s a relay team’s worst nightmare: sitting in the bronze medal position with one team remaining at the top of the course. And that team is Germany. Fast forward....Germany wins the team relay gold yet again Sunday in Igls, bumping that third place team off the podium. The fourth place finisher, in this case, was the United States with two-time Olympian Erin Hamlin and Chris Mazdzer in women’s and men’s singles, respectively, along with Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman in doubles. "The race went pretty well, overall," said Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., sixth in women’s singles a day earlier. "We all had pretty solid runs. We know what to work on to gain more time. I’m confident that we can get on the podium." Russia was confident of the same today, until their doubles sled got disqualified. "This was an interesting day," said Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., a career best fourth in Saturday’s men’s singles race, securing a berth on the upcoming Olympic team, his second. "The Russians were the first team to hit the relay gate (early) at the start so they were automatically disqualified (when the gate opened). The Latvians also had big trouble out of curve nine." The victory gives Germany seven straight wins and nine of the last 10 in this event which will make its Olympic debut at February’s Sochi Olympic Winter Games. They swept all gold medals this weekend at the two-time Winter Olympic site, leaving with eight of 12 medals. The German relay team consisted of their weekend winners: Natalie Geisenberger and Felix Loch in singles, with Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken in doubles. The last sled won the World Cup doubles race earlier in the day, ahead of compatriots Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. The U.S. doubles entries finished 14th, 15th and 18th, respectively, led by Niccum, a two-time Olympian, and Terdiman, followed by Matt Mortensen and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall as well as Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk, in that order. Germany’s relay unit had an aggregate time of 2 minutes, 11.798 seconds. Canada grabbed the silver in 2:12.172, with Italy third in 2:12.266. The U.S. clocked 2:12.501. "It’s a lot of fun to do the relay with the other athletes," said Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash. "It’s a good feeling of pride and camaraderie that we’re all working together. We do our best to not let each other down, and do our best down the hill." The unexpected gives this new discipline the opportunity to provide excitement in Sochi. The specter of a disqualification, coupled with the timing of the touch pad to open the start gate at the top of the track, makes the unlikely possible. USA Luge, coming from a nation with a culture of team events, anxiously awaits the remainder of the World Cup team relays prior to the Winter Olympics. "As long as we keep at it, we’ve got a good shot," assessed Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. Eggert and Benecken took their third career World Cup gold medal, clocking runs of 40.422 and 40.594 seconds for a total of 1:21.016. Wendl and Arlt rallied with the best second heat and finished with the silver medal time of 1:21.099. Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler collected the bronze medal in 1:21.299. Two-time defending Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger (brothers) were fifth. Niccum and Terdiman had the fastest starts in the field, but could not accelerate from there. They had a 14th place time of 1:21.865. Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Griffall, of Salt Lake City, were next in 1:21.915. Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., wound up 18th in 1:22.036. The American team will be in Winterberg, Germany for Thanksgiving as the World Cup tour moves to that major winter sports retreat in Hochsauerland for events on Nov. 30 - Dec. 1. Four competitions are on tap, including another team relay. The World Cup weekend will be preceded by the Nations Cup qualifier on Nov. 29. Christian Niccum (left) and Jayson Terdiman video interview part 1 2 (Videos courtesy of USA Luge / West World Media) Team Relay interviews: Christian Niccum Jayson Terdiman Erin Hamlin Chris Mazdzer Results: Relay results Doubles results
IGLS, Austria - Chris Mazdzer became the first American Saturday to secure 2014 Olympic team nomination by finishing fourth in a World Cup men’s luge race at this two-time Winter Olympic site just outside Innsbruck. Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y, pre-qualified for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games last season with his sixth place result at the 2013 World Championships. Nursing a sore shoulder he verified that nomination by virtue of today’s top five result. "So close.....so close," said Mazdzer as he came off his sled, just 0.03 of a second from his first career podium result. It was his best World Cup result to date. Previously he took fifth last February in Lake Placid. "It started snowing about halfway through the second run," said the 2010 Olympian. "I saw people coming from behind gaining multiple places. You saw people that were going faster now going slow. You try not to focus on that, but in the back of your mind you’re wondering, ’What’s going on?’" Meanwhile, two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin placed sixth, following a German sweep of the top four spots. Hamlin’s second top nine result in as many weeks satisfies one of the criteria for Sochi nomination. At this point, the Remsen, N.Y. racer has a leg up on other teammates. Summer Britcher’s eighth place effort Saturday gives her one top nine result. "My first run was pretty good," said Hamlin, who turned 27 earlier in the week. "There were one or two very minor things where I could have gained speed. I was pretty happy with it. The second run was a little sloppier so I didn’t really capitalize on the opportunity to keep my spot. There were a few more mistakes there. But I’m pretty happy with the result and working my way up." Defending Olympic champion Felix Loch, of Germany, led the team’s gold-silver achievement, as Loch posted the two fastest times of the race. He clocked 50.495 and 50.383 seconds, for a total of 1 minute, 40.878 seconds on an Igls course that is shorter than most. Moeller, 2010 Olympic silver medal winner and four-time world champion, was runner-up in 1:41.052, with 20 year old Italian wunderkind Dominik Fischnaller, last week’s winner in Lillehammer, claiming the bronze medal in 1:41.102. Mazdzer’s fourth place time was 1:41.133, just ahead of Armin Zoeggeler, racing before throngs of Armin’s Army hoping to see the 39 year old land on the podium yet again. The five time Olympic medalist, however, did the unthinkable - touching a wall - and lost a chance at his 100th World Cup medal. "Unfortunately at the bottom, I tried to push it out of (curve) 11 too much and it gave me some weird side pressure," stated Mazdzer. "It pushed me early onto 12 and I skidded up the curve a little bit....just enough to cost me a couple of hundredths. Besides that the runs were really good, but here in Igls you have to have two perfect runs to medal and I almost did that." Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, was 24th in 1:41.991; Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn., Friday’s Nations Cup winner, took 26th in 1:42.102; Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y., wound up 30th in 1:42.509. Natalie Geisenberger, of Germany, holds all the current women’s trophies: World Champion, World Cup overall champion and European Champion. But teammate Tatyana Huefner is in possession of the biggest prize, the 2010 Olympic title. The oddsmakers, however, are betting that changes hands in less than three months in Sochi. Geisenberger, the winner of the season’s first two World Cups, had times of 40.128 and 40.007 for an aggregate of 1:20.135. She will go to Sochi looking to add to her Vancouver bronze medal. Huefner, battling through back issues, was a threat in both heats and finished her day in 1:20.167. Anke Wischnewski was in third place in 1:20.311. Austrian Nina Reithmeyer, the surprising Vancouver silver medalist, took fifth, just ahead of Hamlin’s 1:20.646. Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., was timed in 1:20.709. "My first run was pretty good and I was happy with that," said Britcher, a 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist on the same track. "But I had some issues out of curves nine and 10. Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, had the second fastest starts of each leg, but drifted back to 12th place in 1:20.834. Kate Hansen, the 2008 Junior World Champion and 2013 Norton National Champion from La Canada, Calif., was 23rd in 1:21.238. Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., could only compete in Nations Cup events over the first two weeks as she finished fifth in the fall seeding series. As different storylines unfold in the Olympic season, one of emerging interest concerns USA Luge’s continuing sled evolution, courtesy of the Norton formula for steel running surfaces in collaboration with US Steel, Dow Chemical’s development of carbon fiber runners (kufens), and the personalization and comfort of the sled pods engineered by Clarkson University. "I used most of the weeks in the fall to eliminate different set-ups and figure out what goes fast," said Hamlin. "I was really glad we got on so many tracks in the fall because it helped me do that pretty successfully. Right now I like how everything is working. I’m on the Dow kufens and they’re doing great and I’m happy with that. Hopefully I can get them down the hill twice really clean and we’ll see what happens." Mazdzer is equally happy with how the team’s research and development is emerging. "I have been making some changes with my pod, going for comfort," added Mazdzer. "I made another little adjustment in how the pod feels, and it felt good all week. Sometimes you make a little change and it feels good right away. "I’m running the Dow kufens right now and I also have the steels that Norton engineered. Those two major components are definitely helping out. I feel really comfortable right now. Hopefully things will keep getting a little better." World Cup racing in Igls concludes Sunday with doubles followed by the first team relay of the season. The latter event makes its Olympic debut in Sochi. Sunday’s competitions will be streamed live on www.UniversalSports.com, with living timing and scoring on the FIL website at www.fil-luge.org. Chris Mazdzer Part 1 2 Interview (audio) Erin Hamlin Part 1 2 3 Interview (audio) Summer Britcher Part 1 2 Aidan Kelly Part 1 Kate Hansen Part 1 2 Taylor Morris Part 1 2 Men’s results Women’s results Above: Chris Mazdzer en route to a fourth palce finish in World Cup #2 in Igls Austria on November 23. AP photo. Above: Erin Hamlin at the start of run #1 in Igls Austria on November 23, 2013. Coach Bill Tavares watches. Photo: Brett West Above: Summer Britcher at the start of run #1 in Igls Austria on November 23, 2013. Coach Bill Tavares watches. Photo: Brett West Above: Julia Clukey racing in World Cup #2 in Igls Austria on November 23. AP photo.
Above center: Tucker West, winner of Igls, Austria Nations Cup. All photos and videos courtesy of Brett West. IGLS, Austria - United States luge racers Tucker West and Summer Britcher returned to the scene of their 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medals Friday, with West dusting the 53-man field in the Nations Cup qualifier, while Britcher finished fourth, only 0.06 of a second from the gold medal and 0.2 from the bronze. Both U.S. athletes, members of the junior national team, were on the winning YOG relay team at this same venue nearly two years ago and advanced to Saturday’s World Cup singles races. A pair of American doubles sleds also made it to the weekend as Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk finished seventh, with two-time Olympian Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman taking eighth. West’s victory, by 0.12 of a second over Russian Semen Pavlichenko, puts the Ridgefield, Conn. athlete in Saturday’s World Cup event on the Igls track that also hosted the 1964 and 1976 Olympic luge competitions as part of the Innsbruck Olympic Winter Games. "Training went pretty well this week," said West. "We had fairly poor weather throughout the week, so the ice was inconsistent. However luckily, I was able to adapt and post a good run today. Due to the Youth Olympics I’ve had a surplus of training here, which definitely gave me confidence coming into this week." Training started with rain and snow creating softer, frosty ice conditions. But race day broke clear and cold, translating into a harder and faster racing surface. At just 18 years of age, West is the fastest starter on the American men’s team, having won the annual summer start championship three straight years. He used that quick getaway to create separation on the short Igls course that tends to bunch competitors together. West has also committed to evolving technological advancements with the combination of Norton, Dow Chemical, Clarkson University and US Steel. "I’ve been focusing on my sliding position, and really getting comfortable on the sled," he continued. "I’ve been riding the Dow kufens (sled runners) for the majority of the season, and I believe that they really showed their true colors on this track. The ride felt very smooth, and I was really able to get comfortable while sliding." West has also received a psychological boost in that his father, Brett, is traveling the World Cup circuit for a few weeks. "Having my dad here is always nice," stated the younger West. "Who doesn’t love seeing family after being away from home for so long? "Hopefully I’m able to translate the confidence gained from today into tomorrow when the real racing starts." The winner’s run was timed in 50.753 seconds. Teammate Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, qualified with the sixth best time, clocking 50.994. Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y. was 18th in 51.114 and advanced to the weekend. Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. did not qualify, posting 51.862, while 2010 Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., was exempt due to his status in the first seed of racers. Britcher, 19, of Glen Rock, Pa., is getting her first real taste of luge racing at the elite level. Her time of 40.310 trailed Austria’s Nina Reithmeyer, 2010 Olympic silver medalist, who won the Nations Cup event in 40.246. "It feels good actually," said Britcher. "I knew if I had a good run I’d make it in, and that’s what I did. I had a little trouble out of curve 13. I had trouble there in training so it was no surprise. But it was nice coming back from that with a good finish." Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., the 2013 Junior World Champion, was 10th in 40.414. While Britcher started slower than Sweeney, the former gained time down the course, while Sweeney fell back after posting the fifth best start time in the field. Britcher will get Saturday’s World Cup start, joining exempt athletes Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, and Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif. The men’s World Cup quota is five sleds per nation, while the women receive four entries per country. Sweeney placed fifth in the fall seeding series. Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., registered a time of 40.271, with Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash, and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. next in 40.292 despite having the fastest start time. The Russian team of Andrey Bogdanov and Andrey Medvedev won the race in 40.123. Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City are in the first seed, giving them a bye into Sunday’s doubles event. The Igls World Cup weekend will be streamed live on Universal Sports . Follow the Igls World Cup event with live timing and scoring on the FIL website. Both singles races are set for Saturday, with doubles and the team relay on Sunday. Video Interviews: Tucker West Aidan Kelly Taylor Morris Summer Britcher Emily Sweeney Race results here
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The United States Luge Association announced Tuesday that 1998 Olympian Larry Dolan has been appointed Head Coach of the organization’s Junior C and D Teams. The native of Morrisonville, N.Y. already has his young charges hard at work on and off the ice in Lake Placid. "Our new CEO, Jim Leahy, Mark Grimmette (Sport Program Director), Fred Zimny (Recruitment Director) and Amy Chapin (Director of Administration) worked very hard together to facilitate my addition to the program," said Dolan. "I’m very excited to be back with USA Luge in my new position. Most importantly, I’m ready to get to work." The staff at team headquarters in Lake Placid has anxiously awaited Dolan’s arrival to work with the national team athletes of the future. "I’m very excited to have Larry on board as the Junior C and D team coach this season," said Grimmette, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist, as well as 2010 Olympic flagbearer. "He has a great blend of luge experience and education. Larry was a successful luge athlete. He’ll provide an excellent communication link between our young athletes, their parents and the USLA. He has a passion for coaching luge and will use his teaching experience to systematically teach young athletes luge skills. He will be a great asset to us." As a luge competitor, Dolan finished 13th at the Nagano Olympic Winter Games. He also won two silver medals in the junior world championships, the 1998 National Championship gold medal, and placed in the top five of World Cup singles events on numerous occasions. "My goal is to produce capable, well-rounded athletes that will have a life-long love for their experiences with the sport," continued Dolan. "We hope some of those athletes will become World Champions, an Olympic champion, I hope. All the athletes I work with will learn to be professional, responsible, and dedicated to their endeavors in luge and, most importantly, in life." Away from the sport, Dolan is a certified New York State teacher holding an MST in education. He has been a Teaching Assistant at Stafford Middle School in Plattsburgh, N.Y. since 2010. Dolan has also been an adjunct instructor at SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College in history and anthropology. He operates a small project recording studio called The Granary, where Dolan writes music and records other working artists. He also composes music for film. As Dolan is joining USA Luge, three-time Olympian Tony Benshoof is re-joining the Junior National Team, where he will collaborate with Zimny for the second consecutive year. "Tony has vast experience sliding internationally, and he has a great passion for luge," stated Grimmette. "The combination of these two attributes made him a great coach last year and will again this year. Our Junior Team athletes will benefit greatly from Tony’s knowledge of the sport." Benshoof is the most decorated singles athlete in USA Luge history, and finished fourth in singles at the Torino Winter Games. Zimny and Benshoof are currently guiding the Junior National Team through two weeks of training in Europe.
Italians serve notice to Germany as Dominik Fischnaller wins, Zoeggeler 4th LILLEHAMMER, Norway - On a day when Italy and Germany took the headlines at the World Cup men’s singles opener Sunday in Lillehammer, USA Luge saw Chris Mazdzer take 14th place, followed by Aidan Kelly in 21st. The two Americans were positioned to slide into the top 10 at the end of the day, but Lillehammer’s 1994 Olympic course was tricky then and remains somewhat of a puzzle now. It becomes more difficult when you add sunny, warmer weather to the equation which softens the ice and requires a perfect driving touch. After one heat, Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y., indicated that his strong week of training was going to pay dividends. He gained gulps of time in the final curves of the opening heat, and stood in eighth place. But in his second run start, the 22 year old pulled to the left wall on the start, putting him in correction mode thereafter. Correction equals excess friction through added steering, which equals loss of speed and, ultimately, time. Mazdzer, a 2010 Olympian from Saranac Lake, N.Y., was 11th at the break, and like most all competitors, found the Lillehammer course difficult to master with no errors. Mazdzer had a sixth place in the 2013 World Championships and then came to Lake Placid in February, taking fifth place, both career bests. On Sunday it was a frustrated racer, however, who came up the outrun with arms thrown out to his sides. Other Americans in the event were Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., in 26th place; Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah 27th; and Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn. 28th. Italy’s rising star, Dominik Fischnaller, set a track record in the opening leg en route to the gold medal. It was a Lillehammer mark previously held by three-time Olympic champion Georg Hackl of Germany. The achievement marked Fischnaller’s his first career victory, and with the ageless wonder Armin Zoeggeler taking fourth in the event, just 0.08 of a second from the podium, it can be said that both athletes will pose serious threats to the German juggernaut three months from now at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. "This comes as a complete surprise," said Fischnaller. "It’s unbelievable to achieve a better result thanrenowned lugers such as Moeller, Loch or Armin Zoeggeler. However, I have profited a lot from Armin. He always helps me with his advice." Fischnaller’s times of 49.172 and 49.174 seconds totaled 1 minute, 38.346 seconds. Germany’s David Moeller was second in 1:38.492 with defending Olympic and World Champion Felix Loch, also of Germany, third in 1:38.497. The 20 year old Fischnaller comes from a luge family, similar to the sliding Hubers, in the South Tyrol village of Meransen. Last season he finished seventh in the World Cup overall standings entering seven of nine events. He missed the other two races to compete at the junior world championships in Park City, Utah where he won the men’s gold medal, and was part of the winning relay team. Several weeks later, he joined Zoeggeler on the World Cup podium in Lake Placid, finishing with the silver medal to his teammate’s gold. Zoeggeler, meanwhile, now approaching 40 years of age, will carry the Italian flag at the Opening Ceremony on February 7. Over the ensuing two nights he’ll try to add to his Olympic collection of two gold medals, one silver and two bronze. Sochi will be his sixth Olympic berth; he has medaled in the previous five. With the introduction of the Team Relay in Sochi, the man known as "The Cannibal" could leave Russia with two more. To conclude the American story Mazdzer clocked a pair of runs that totaled 1:39.040; Kelly’s aggregate time was 1:39.171; Mortensen 1:39.621; Morris 1:39.683; West 1:39.821. With World Cup performances leading to U.S. Olympic Team berths in February, nothing definitive emerged from this race. But there are four more opportunities over the next month, resuming next weekend in Igls, Austria, site of the 1964 and 1976 Olympic luge competitions, and where the sport made its Olympic debut 50 years ago. Results
Above: Erin Hamlin at the start of run #2 in Lillehammer, Norway on Nov. 16. Hamlin 8th, Hansen 12th, Clukey 19th, Mortensen/Griffall 13th in Lillehammer LILLEHAMMER, Norway - Kate Hansen, broken foot aside, took the opening run lead in Saturday’s women’s World Cup luge opener, but it was German Natalie Geisenberger who put the hammer down in Lillehammer, coming from behind and equaling the track record in the second heat to take the gold medal. Two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin was the fastest American, taking eighth place on a day where a temperature inversion around the Hunderfossen track led to softer ice conditions for late starters. Hansen settled for 12th. Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City took 13th in the doubles race earlier in the day. Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist Geisenberger, now the defending World Cup and World Champion, had run times of 47.964 and 47.883 seconds for a combined 1 minute, 35.847 seconds. The steadily improving Ivanova, fourth in Vancouver, was runner-up in 1:36.031, while Canada’s Alex Gough, another Olympic medal threat in February, rallied from eighth place to take the bronze medal in 1:36.233. "We got to the track today, and it was warmer than at the hotel," said Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y. "After getting cold weather that was a rude awakening. The bib number was huge in the first run. Being at the end of the order the track slowed down so much that you couldn’t make any mistakes because it would cost you so much time." Hamlin ended her day with a two-heat total of 1:36.470. "I made a little mistake in curve 13 and things multiplied with the slow ice," she continued. "And I had a little mistake in the start curve. Those things were just too much time to make up." Hansen, the 2008 Junior World Champion and 2013 Norton National Champion from La Canada, Calif., found herself in the closest of races, as she was just 0.01 ahead of Geisenberger and Tatiana Ivanova of Russia at the intermission. "I was second off after barely qualifying (Friday)," Hansen commented. "The run was really good. I had a little trouble with curves 13 and 14 this entire week and made it through clean once. So I was praying for a miracle and that’s exactly what I got. I came out of 13 and it was straight. It was unbelievable. I was pretty stoked." However, it was that same turn combination on the 1994 Olympic course that drifted her back in the final leg. "The second run was pretty clean until 13-14. I came out and skidded every which way. But it’s still a top 12." Her run ended with a smile and a crutch to support her injury, suffered in training last month in Park City, Utah. She clocked in with 1:36.530. Hansen’s previous best World Cup results were sixth place in Lake Placid last season and eighth in Oberhof, Germany two years ago. Vancouver Olympian Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, sixth in the World Cup standings last year, also had a late start position in the first attempt and placed 19th in 1:36.716. Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., did not finish the opening run. Sergeants Mortensen and Griffall, in the Army World Class Athlete Program and members of the National Guard, also had a late draw for the start of the event and were back in 20th at the halfway point, but uncorked the fifth best final heat and pulled up to 13th place. "The second run was better," stated Mortensen. "We fell victim to a bad start number and declining ice conditions on the first run. The second run was pretty sloppy, but the start number was better. Overall we’re satisfied that the actual racing we did was good even though the times did not show that." Defending World Cup doubles champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany started their Olympic push with a victory by the slimmest of margins, just 0.01 of a second. The team that did not qualify for Vancouver four seasons ago is the favorite for gold in Sochi. After winning seven of nine World Cup events last year and the World Championship, Wendl and Arlt had the first run advantage by 0.1 of a second, then watched as their teammates rally from third place fell short. The winners had runs of 47.655 and 47.835 for a total of 1:35.499. Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken were agonizingly close in 1:35.509, with defending two-time Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger third. The Austrian brothers clocked 1:35.612. The podium finishes were identical to the 2013 World Championships last February in Whistler, British Columbia. Mortensen and Griffall were timed in 1:36.438. Their second heat time was 0.2 behind Eggert and Benecken and 0.1 off the pace of Wendl and Arlt. Two other American teams did not advance beyond Friday’s Nations Cup qualifying. Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa. were relegated to spectating as were two-time Olympian Christian Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash. and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. Race action resumes Sunday with men’s singles as the Lillehammer weekend concludes. Watch the final race live on UniversalSports.com. You can also see live timing and scoring at www.fil-luge.org. INTERVIEWS Erin Hamlin Kate Hansen Women’s results and doubles results