Silver medal in the team relay. From the left: Mazdzer, Clukey, Mortensen, Griffall
Chris Mazdzer takes his first run of the day
Taylor Morris racing to a personal best T-7 finish
Joe Mortensen also posted his best-ever World Cup result, 11th, on February 9, 2013
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The breakout weekend that USA Luge sought concluded Saturday afternoon on home ice at Mount Van Hoevenberg. It saw the home team score a silver medal in the World Cup team relay after three men recorded personal bests earlier in the day in singles.
Julia Clukey, who took a World Cup silver medal Friday, led off the team relay group that included Chris Mazdzer in men’s singles, and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall. All gave top three efforts in their respective categories.
"To all come together as a team and perform our best and get the silver medal is huge," said Clukey, a 2010 Olympian from Augusta, Maine. "We’ve had some heart-breaking team relays. We’ve missed the podium by less than 0.02 of a second for the past two consecutive team relays."
Clukey’s achievement 24 hours earlier was her first World Cup podium result; Mazdzer finished fifth Saturday morning in singles to raise the bar on his personal best achievements; and the Mortensen-Griffall duo had a season topping sixth place in Friday’s doubles race.
Teammates Taylor Morris tied for seventh in men’s singles, and Joe Mortensen, Matt’s brother, placed 11th.
The U.S. relay team was the third entry down the three-quarters of a mile course, and quickly took a substantial lead that they rode until one group remained. That was Germany, looking for their fifth straight victory of the World Cup season in this discipline that will make its Olympic debut in one year in Sochi, Russia. They locked up the season-long tour title last month.
The team of Natalie Geisenberger, Ralf Palik and doubles sliders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt were the only unit faster than the U.S. on a sunny Adirondack afternoon.
The Germans, who also captured the World Championship in this event last weekend at Whistler, British Columbia, totaled 2 minutes, 34.894 seconds. The American quartet was timed in 2:35.001, just 0.107 from the Gold. Germany’s scant margin of victory was their smallest of the year. The U.S. is third overall in the standings with 296 points.
"I tried to tune out what happened ahead of me," said Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., whose sled is the anchor. He and Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah, are members of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. "I want to have the best runs I can. When we came up and had a pretty good run, and they said they had good runs, I was really psyched to see where we could go."
Italy, second on the campaign with 335 points, and led by men’s singles winner Armin Zoeggeler, finished with the bronze medal in 2:35.474.
It was a profitable weekend also for the Azzurri who not only got relay bronze, but swept the podium of the men’s singles race with the 39 year old Zoeggeler heading the field with a come-from-behind victory. Zoeggeler, who skipped the World Championships last weekend with back issues, had run times of 52.369 and 52.286 for the winning final time of 1:44.655. He won the last World Cup race held here in November 2007.
His protégé, Dominick Fischnaller, the 2013 Junior World Champion, took the opening run lead but was overtaken for the gold medal. Fischnaller, 19, clocked 1:44.867 in taking silver. It was his second podium performance of his career. David Mair completed the Italian sweep with the bronze medal in 1:45.005.
Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., despite having problems with the start curve in both heats, rallied for fifth place in 1:45.187.
"Sliding is going really well," said Mazdzer who rallied from 12th after the opening run. The 2010 Olympian had the fourth fastest final heat. "I messed up start curve both runs, but I was able to make it up going down the hill. You can work on that. Sliding is the hardest part.
"Things are looking really good. It’ll be interesting to see in Sochi (World Cup final Feb. 24-25). That’s a different track. That’s the Olympic track. Hopefully I can take this momentum to Sochi. It’s an important race for next year."
Morris, of South Jordan, Utah tied for seventh in 1:45.222. Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. took 11th place in 1:45.292.
"When you come here and have had thousands of runs on the track, and the Europeans come here and get six runs, and they ask you about certain curves, it kind of makes you feel good in a way knowing you have the upper hand," said Morris.
The 21 year old is a member of the Army National Guard, as is Joe Mortensen, and spent last summer taking care of his military training commitment at the expense of luge-specific training.
"The one thing the coaches tell me is that my start needs to pick up. We’ve worked a lot during the season on that. I am going to become a gorilla at the start. It’ll be fun to see what happens when you’re up there with the top starters."
Isaac Underwood, of Skandia, Mich. was the final U.S. hopeful but did not finish the opening heat.
In the overall World Cup men’s singles standings, Germany holds the top three places, although their best finish Saturday was seventh by Ralf Palik. Four-time World Champion and defending Olympic Champion Felix Loch crashed here in training, suffered a hand injury, and was pulled from the lineup.
The son of Germany’s head coach has 600 points. David Moeller, ninth Saturday, is second overall with 537 points. Andi Langenhan, 14th in the race, is third with 513 points. The overall World Cup title will be decided in Sochi.
Mazdzer is now ranked 12th in the World Cup with 229 points. Morris is tied for 21st with 166.
The World Cup season will end in two weeks with the Sochi events that will officially give the venue its pre-Olympic seal of approval.
Complete men’s results
Complete team relay results
Interview with Taylor Morris
Interview with Chris Mazdzer:
Interview with US relay team: