2 Nations Cup gold medals for USA Luge in Winterberg
Created on November 29, 2013 by Sandy Caligiore
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