WEST UNBEATABLE AFTER WINNING 10TH NORTON USA LUGE START CHAMPIONSHIP
by Lauren Howe
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – Three-time Olympian Tucker West upped his record number of men’s start titles to ten with his victory in the annual Norton USA Luge Start Championships, held on the team’s refrigerated start ramps in Lake Placid. West’s runs are establishing him once again as the fastest starter on the 2022 National Team.
The victory brought the three-time World Cup race winner to a tie of all-time record-holder Ashley (Hayden) Walden, who also won 10 start championships.
Three-time Olympian Summer Britcher captured the women’s championship. The team of Zack DiGregorio and Sean Hollander won the men’s doubles start race, and Maya Chan and Reannyn Weiler were crowned as the winners of the women’s doubles start race.
The annual competition dates back nearly 30 years as a way of assessing athlete off-season progress in the critical start technique. Luge races begin from handles in a static start at the top of the course. The competition format used the best two out of three timed runs.
West, of Ridgefield, Conn., totaled 6.61 seconds for his three runs, and securing a new personal best by a half-tenth of a second, beating Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., who finished .32 seconds behind West with a time of 6.93.
“It’s been a good summer and I stayed relatively injury free,” said West. “We’ve switched around our start training quite a bit and with our new start coach, Mandi Hillebrand, we are working on new techniques which I’ve taken quite well to, so we just need to see how this will transition to the ice for the season.”
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., the most decorated singles World Cup winner in USA Luge history, edged out Emily Sweeney, the 2019 World Championship bronze medalist and winner of the 2021 start championships, by 0.11 over the three attempts. Britcher clocked 7.18 seconds, while Sweeney completed the competition with a time of 7.29.
“Today was great,” said Britcher. “I got a personal best start and since this is our first real start [competition] after Covid, it was great to have a crowd here to cheer us on and get us excited to race this season.”
DiGregorio, from Medway, Mass. and Hollander, of Lake Placid, took the doubles race in 6.89. Dana Kellogg of Chesterfield, Mass., and Duncan Segger of Lake Placid, placed second with 7.19. Joining the men’s doubles start this year was the duo of Hunter Harris, of East Fairfield, Vt., and Frank Ike, of Lititz, Pa., who placed third with a time of 7.15.
“Yeah, I mean we're very happy with how (the starts) went, said Hollander. “Some PB’s within a month and some big improvements over last year. I'm excited to see how we stack up against the Europeans.”
“We’ve had our PB come down three hundredths of a second, which in the sport of luge, that’s huge, especially at the start,” added teammate DiGregorio.
Chan, of Chicago, Il., and Weiler, of Whitesboro, N.Y., beat last year’s women’s doubles start champions Chevonne Forgan, of Chelmsford, Mass. and Sophie Kirkby, of Ray Brook, New York, with a time of 7.29. Forgan and Kirkby came in at 7.34.
“We definitely made a lot of improvements this summer and pulled a PB today, so I’m pretty happy,”said Chan.
“These past few weeks having Mandi here, we’ve been able to change our start programs, our strength programs, so I felt like overall I personally got a lot stronger, Said Weiler. “And I think as a whole team, we made a lot of progress.”
The Norton competition always held in the fall months, begins the countdown to the team’s return to outdoor ice and the crucial training camps that enable the athletes to build a deep run count prior to the start of the EBERSPÄCHER World Cup tour. The team will hit the ice for the first time in Lillehammer, Norway early next month.
The National Team is expected to hit the ice in early October for pre-season training in Europe. World Cup action will resume December 3-4 in Igls, Austria, when the nine-race season kicks off. The circuit will return to the U.S. for the first time since 2019 for the EBERSPÄCHER World Cup on December 16-17 in Park City, Utah. World Championships are slated to take place in Oberhof, Germany on January 27-29, 2023. Currently, the majority of the team are training in Lake Placid, working in the refrigerated luge start training facility and Olympic/Paralympic Training Center.