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Mazdzer, West share nationals gold medal

October 29, 2012
Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Chris Mazdzer and Tucker West tied for the national men's singles luge title to the thousandth of a second Saturday, Oct. 27 at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The 17-year-old West, one of USA Luge's youngest national champions in team history, also won gold in the team relay.

In a battle between two Olympians, Julia Clukey ended Erin Hamlin's national championship winning streak at five.

Article Photos

Photo provided by USA Luge
From left, Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and Aidan Kelly celebrate on the podium following the Norton National Championships at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid on Saturday, Oct. 27.

Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk took a commanding first run lead in doubles only to get disqualified for a sled infraction.

Youth Olympic Games gold medalists led their units to victory in the team relay.

Welcome to the 2012 Norton USA Luge National Championships and second seeding race.

Saturday's conclusion to the Norton USA Luge National Championships illustrated the excitement and, at times, unpredictability of racing at the elite level.

Hamlin, the 2009 world champion on this track, overturned her defeat to Clukey 24 hours earlier in the first seeding race. Hamlin, of Remsen, had two runs totaling one minute, 29.991 seconds.

Clukey's runner-up time of 1:30.046, however, was enough to give her the national title which was determined by the four-heat total over the two days.

The Augusta, Maine luger totaled 2:59.953 for the four runs down the 16-curve course. She won the crown despite competing on a secondary set of steel runners. Hamlin, a two-time Olympian, concluded four trips in 3:00.041, a mere 0.088 of a difference over three miles of racing.

"This win puts me in a great place," said Clukey, who had surgery to address Arnold Chiari Syndrome just two seasons ago. The operation required the shaving of 8 millimeters of bone from the base of her skull to relieve chronic headaches and fatigue.

"We have a great women's team. I think Erin and I are going to push each other all year. We have different strengths and weaknesses. It's a great team atmosphere and I think the women's team is going to make a stand this year."

Hamlin wouldn't mind the company after spending a portion of last season as the lone American in the women's World Cup field. She also would prefer a change to winter weather; Hamlin shares similar situations as her teammates with equipment that is faster on cold, hard ice instead of the near 60 degree temperatures and fog that were prevalent Saturday.

"I'm super excited for the season," she said after seeing her consecutive Norton National Championship winning streak end at five. "Our women's team is going to come out swinging. We're all right there. It's exciting. It should be a really good season and I'm looking forward to it."

Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., part of the 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medal relay unit, had two of the four best runs of the race and collected the bronze medal in 3:00.499.

Meanwhile, Mazdzer and West shared the Norton gold medal after a total of four miles and 76 turns. Their aggregate time was 3:33.262. Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, had the bronze medal time of 3:33.683. In a further display of the tight racing, Kelly claimed the bronze by just eight thousandths of a second.

Another member of the 2010 Olympic team, Mazdzer dominated the first three legs of the championship before encountering problems from the start of the fourth heat.

"It was really bad from the start," said a dejected Mazdzer. "I was going for it on the start. But my right foot slipped a little. I went toward the right wall. I tried to paddle back. And I skidded into the start curve. The run was an expression of that all the way down. I lost so much time. It was really bad."

West, of Ridgefield, Conn. is another member of the 2012 Youth Olympic Games gold medal relay team. He benefited from Mazdzer's fourth heat woes.

"Chris is an amazing competitor," remarked West. "It feels awesome to be up there with him. I know he had a little problem on that (last) run. But it's still awesome. This is a confidence-builder. I'm hoping to have a good season.

"I had a lot of nerves going in, but I tried to treat it like a training run. A tie over four runs. ... I've seen a tie over two runs, but over four runs is pretty amazing."

West captured the second seeding race by 0.03 of a second over the last two runs.

The 17 year old continues progressing through the USA Luge system. He has dominated the indoor start championship the past two summers, the youngest in the team's history to do so. West, a student at National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, is now among the youngest in USA Luge annals to hold this championship.

Cameron Myler, a four-time Olympian and 1994 flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was 16 years of age when she scored the 1985 women's national championship.

As the athletes and spectators were digesting all of this, word drifted from the race officials that doubles first run leaders Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk were disqualified for an equipment violation.

Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa. spotted Friday seeding race winners Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah a 0.10 of a second advantage at the start of the first leg.

But the combination of fast sliding by Hyrns and Sherk, coupled with the struggles of Mortensen and Griffall going down the 16-curve doubles layout, turned the tables. Then came the sled measurements at the exit of the track by the officials, leading to the Hyrns and Sherk disqualification.

That gave Mortensen and Griffall a virtual pass to the doubles gold medal, which was only contested Saturday, unlike the singles format.

Their two heats totaled 1:30.631. The first year doubles team of Ty Andersen, of Alpine, Utah and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah were second in 1:32.866, with Shane Hook, of Grapevine, Tex. and Zac Clark, also of Salt Lake City third in 1:35.507.

That left the Team Relay, a recent addition to the 2014 Sochi Olympic schedule, as the concluding on-ice race of the weekend, and here, youth was also served.

Britcher and West in singles joined Hyrns and Sherk in doubles to win the competition by almost one second. All four are between the ages of 17 and 20. Their collective winning time was 2:41.181.

Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif., the 2008 Junior World Champion, along with Kelly, and the doubles team of Mortensen and Griffall scored the silver medal in 2:42.032.

Hamlin, Mazdzer, Andersen and Espinoza won a bronze medal in 2:43.759.

Ironically, once the competitions ended, the racing wasn't completed. Hurricane Sandy or not, the equipment was packed up and put on the road to JFK Airport in New York City for the long trek to Sochi, Russia and the start of a training week beginning Nov. 4. To ensure arrival for the start of the camp, sleds and related gear needed to depart Lake Placid on Saturday for an evening flight.

USA Luge athletes depart Friday.

"Getting on a new track is always fun because [it's different than going] back to the same places every year." said Hamlin prior to the frantic exercise. "Throwing in something new stirs the pot a little bit. I'm excited to get on the Olympic track. I've heard great things about it. Hopefully it's a good track for me."



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