World Cup concludes as teams now head to Beijing
by Sandy Caligiore
Above: Clockwise, Emily Sweeney, Emily Sweeney congratulates Sandra Robatscher, Ashley Farquharson and Summer Britcher. Photos: Photo FIL/Mareks Galinovskis
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – The compacted Eberspacher World Cup luge tour ended Sunday in tony St. Moritz which only means that all eyes are now on the big prize – the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
The final day played out in typical winter weather conditions for the Engadin region – that is to say, sunny, with temps approaching 30 degrees. In fact, one of the courses 19 curves carries the Sunny name. That’s how confident they are in the weather.
USA Luge’s Emily Sweeney, after resting her neck last week in Oberhof, returned to sliding this week and ended her season with a 17th place effort, topped by a fifth-place result in Altenberg that solidified her spot on the Olympic team. But for the slider born in Maine and living in Lake Placid, the past few years have not been so much about the World Cup. After winning the 2019 World Championship bronze medal, the two-time Olympian said it’s more about the big events, and there’s nothing bigger than what looms ahead.
Ashley Farquharson, of Park City, Utah, has been nominated to her first Olympic team. On Sunday, she negotiated the long, high speed St. Moritz track in 23rd place, but her best result of the year occurred on opening weekend when she finished eighth in Beijing. Farquharson tied for 15th place in the 2022 World Cup standings.
Three-time Team USA member Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., was 24th as she protects a broken finger suffered two weeks ago. This result came without a normal start due to the injury. Like Sweeney, there are bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks.
The Americans concluded the nine-races-in-10-week campaign with two World Cup medals in the team relay and Britcher’s sprint silver in Sochi. She was 11th in the overall standings. Teammate Brittney Arndt, another Park City slider, was 28th ranked. She returned home two weeks ago to not only continue her own training, but to assist doubles teammates Zack DiGregorio and Sean Hollander get up to speed prior to the Winter Games.
Austria’s Madeleine Egle ran off eight straight medals to end the season including Sunday’s runner-up finish to German Natalie Geisenberger. Egle, chasing another German, Julia Taubitz for the overall World Cup championship, came up 32 points short. Nevertheless, with a tour-leading five gold medals this winter including Beijing, Egle made her point – expect her to be in midst of the four-heat battle on Feb. 7-8 at the Yanqing National Sliding Center.
Geisenberger, meanwhile, won her first event of the year and 52nd of her illustrious career on closing day. The World Cup’s most successful athlete, who also holds four Olympic championships, negotiated the St. Moritz to Celerina track in a combined time of 1 minute, 48.190 seconds for the two trips.
Geisenberger bested Egle by 0.15 of a second, with Latvian Elina Ieva Vitola third, 0.26 from the winner. The bronze medal marked Vitola’s third career podium performance. She returned later and raced the lead leg for Latvia as they captured the team relay.
Taubitz was fourth on the day. Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova, with 16 career victories, was fifth and continued her comeback from a leg injury incurred in Beijing two months ago.
Taubitz secured her second straight Joska crystal, highlighted by four gold medals and a total of 979 World Cup points.
"For me this is the highest award because it shows the performance over the whole season," said Taubitz. "I'm overjoyed to have clinched it."
Egle accumulated 947 points over the 12 races. Geisenberger was third at 772.
For the second straight week, the United States had no doubles teams on the premises and was relegated to spectating. What they saw was a Latvian victory led mostly by newcomers to the World Cup.
Vitola led the effort from the front, while the doubles team of Martins Bots and Roberts Plume, anchored the victory by 0.12 of a second ahead of Germany. In between, they were helped by Kristers Aparjods, the silver medalist in Saturday’s singles event. The foursome had a winning time of 2:47.101. When Germany could not overtake them, a boisterous scene erupted. Russia placed third.
"The secret of the team is that everyone supports each other," says Martins Rubenis, Latvian head coach and 2006 Olympic bronze medalist. "On the one hand, we have improved the training step by step, the young lugers have improved more and more, they feel very comfortable on their sleds. As a result, the spirit in the team has also grown more and more."
The second-place time by Germany, with Geisenberger, Johannes Ludwig and the pair of Toni Eggert/Sascha Benecken, led them to 476 World Cup points and another overall crown. It is their 11th in the 12 years of the team relay’s existence. Latvia was second-ranked at 415. Austria, disqualified on Sunday when Egle missed the touch pad, settled for third place with 360.
For the Germans, this capped a season sweep of the four Joska awards. The others were Taubitz, Ludwig and Eggert/Benecken.
The U.S., which only entered four of the six team relays and achieved two medals, finished sixth ranked.
The team relay, which made its Olympic debut in Sochi, will conclude the Beijing luge competitions on Feb. 10.
FINAL APPROACH TO BEIJING
USA Luge now packs its gear and belongings for their mid-week trip to the 2022 Olympic site. Men’s training begins Feb. 1, the Opening Ceremony Feb. 4, and the races for the medals on Feb. 5-6.
The pandemic has resulted in no foreign spectators at the venues and very few locals. According to an official Beijing announcement, "In order to ensure the safety of all participants and spectators, it has been decided that tickets should not be sold anymore but be part of an adapted program that will invite groups of spectators to be present on site during the Games.”
With the 13-hour time change, nighttime events in China translate to early morning action on the U.S. east coast.