The silver medal winning team of (from left) Jayson Terdiman, Christian Niccum, Chris Mazdzer and Erin Hamlin. Photo: Fred Zimny
WINTERBERG, Germany - Not that it wasn’t before, but in less than a week’s time USA Luge has not only made the team relay the latest cool event, but with results like Sunday’s World Cup silver medal in Winterberg, Germany, they will help the International Luge Federation "sell" one of the new Olympic sports in the United States.
It was the team of Erin Hamlin and Chris Mazdzer in women’s and men’s singles, respectively, with the doubles sled of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman that landed on the podium.
The Americans finished behind the winning German foursome of Anke Wischnewski, Felix Loch, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, which locked up the season-long World Cup title in the discipline with 470 points. It was their third win in five attempts, and mathematically closed out the competition. Latvia was a distant third in the event.
The United States effort came five days after their younger counterparts captured gold in the team relay at the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
"It’s exciting and it’s nerve-wracking at some points," said Hamlin, who was seventh in the women’s World Cup singles race earlier in the day. "The team event is always fun to do. We have a good time and it’s nice when we medal. I felt good going in."
The U.S. silver medal surpassed a pair of fifth place results in this discipline earlier in the season, and elevated the U.S. to fourth place on the campaign with 295 World Cup points. Only one more team relay remains on the schedule.
It was the team’s best World Cup team relay effort since a victory in Lake Placid, N.Y. on Nov. 17, 2007, courtesy of Hamlin, Tony Benshoof, Niccum and Dan Joye. Benshoof and Joye retired recently.
The Germans clinched the Cup in two minutes, 26.956 seconds.
Consistency brought the Americans to the runner-up placing on Sunday in 2:27.658. Latvia’s bronze medal time was 2:27.998.
Hamlin, the 2009 World Champion from Remsen, N.Y., recorded the second fastest women’s time, while Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., was third among the men.
The Niccum-Terdiman doubles team, after a World Cup fifth place in the discipline on Saturday, battled through falling snow, trying to keep their sled down the middle of the Winterberg course while not over controlling it.
"We were on the edge, especially down in the labyrinth," said Terdiman, of Fort Washington, Pa., who took a doubles bronze medal here last season with Niccum. "Living on that edge at the bottom paid off for us. We’re still gonna do this and ride that edge as far as we can."
For Mazdzer, the silver medal was a moving experience - a slower moving one at that. Starting further down the track at the doubles location, the 2010 Olympian was sledding at a much lower speed, particularly with snow falling.
"From the lower start, the key is to relax, and I really wish I could carry that over to the higher starts and be relaxed and flowing," he said. "Here you just let the sled run and you’re gelling. You have to be way more patient on the run, and the pressures in the curves are different. In a men’s race, you’re wired from the higher start and the higher speeds."
Interestingly, the team relay seems to change the dynamic of race day in that the athlete is accountable to more than himself.
"You feel terrible if you let your teammates down," continued Mazdzer. "In the team event, you’re cheering for everyone. If everyone has a good run, days like today can happen. It’s an awesome feeling."
The Americans were sitting on the top of the leaderboard at this stage, awaiting their doubles teammates.
"Erin put down a really fast run and so did Chris. All we had to do was just finish," chuckled Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash. "The big thing with the snow was to not get close to the (inside) walls where snow was piling up."
The achievement occurred several hours after Germany’s Corinna Martini captured her first career victory on her home track, leading a team sweep of the medals. Martini, who emerged from the local sliding club in Winterberg, checked in with a two-heat time of 1:54.543.
Vancouver Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner, the overall World Cup leader, was second in 1:54.710, with Natalie Geisenberger, the Vancouver bronze medalist, third in 1:54.857.
Huefner’s World Cup leading total stands at 540 points; Geisenberger is second at 465; Canadian Alex Gough, fifth Sunday, is third at 415.
Hamlin’s seventh place time was 1:55.415.
"That was a solid result," said the two-time Olympian, who has improved to sixth in the overall rankings with 251 points. "I’m trying to get back in a good, steady groove and be comfortable again and have the runs feel like they used to. So far I’m going in that direction and want to keep going."
Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn. was 13th in 1:56.279, with Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif., 19th in 1:57.032. Hansen is listed 20th with 110 points, while Sweeney is 22nd with 96. Both racers missed the first two competitions of the year while dominating the Junior World Cup series. Sweeney had two victories on the younger circuit, and Hansen registered four medals.
The World Cup tour now moves to the tony winter resort of St. Moritz, Switzerland, on the naturally built layout that starts in the village and concludes in nearby Celerina. It is the longest course on tour.
Races are set for Jan. 27-29.
Click below for today’s complete results.