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World Cup luge season kicks off in Austria

November 21, 2018
Lake Placid News

IGLS, Austria - Nine months after Erin Hamlin carried the American flag into the Pyeongchang Opening Ceremony, followed by Chris Mazdzer's Olympic silver medal two nights later, USA Luge is ready to begin the four-year run-up to Beijing 2022.

That start takes place with the Viessmann World Cup opener Saturday and Sunday in this small, picturesque resort outside Innsbruck, Austria, which hosted the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games. The United States will feature a much smaller roster on opening weekend as a result of numerous retirements.

Hamlin, the Sochi Olympic bronze medalist, led the exodus as the organization said goodbye to no less than seven athletes, five of them in doubles. But that should not be misconstrued into thinking USA Luge is in complete rebuilding mode.

Mazdzer, who will compete in both singles and doubles, leads the way after securing the team's first-ever men's singles Olympic medal.

"It is a little bit of a juggling act," said Mazdzer, who will partner in doubles with Jayson Terdiman. "It's definitely different trying to split up the runs inside the (training) sessions. But overall, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm thinking this whole going back and forth (between singles and doubles) is completely possible. Consistency is getting better. The challenge is really going to be on tracks where I've never done doubles. The new challenge is getting my doubles up to par."

The three-time Olympian from Saranac Lake will be joined in singles by Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut. Both have won three World Cup races in their careers. Rounding out the men's singles team entering Igls will be Jonny Gustafson, of Massena.

Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, brings a team-best five World Cup singles wins into Igls. Britcher, a member of the 2014 and 2018 Olympic squads, finished third in last year's World Cup standings.

"I've been wanting to try my hand at racing and get back into that racing format for a while now," Britcher said. "I've been waiting for this week for a while, so I'm excited that it's finally here. Training has been going okay; it could always be better. It's the first year of a quad (leading to Beijing) so it's not as hyped as the previous year when everyone is ramping up toward the Olympics, but I'm very excited to see what the next week and the next several weeks hold."

Britcher will be joined by 2018 Olympian Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Connecticut, but not until the second week of the season at Whistler, British Columbia. While the rest of the team has been training this month in Europe, Sweeney has been sliding in Park City, Utah and Whistler awaiting the arrival of her teammates for World Cup action on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

The U.S. women's team will be completed by Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Georgia, and Brittney Arndt, of Park City, up from the junior ranks.

Two months ago, USA Luge had no doubles team after five athletes brought their careers to an end. But at the wedding of former teammate Megan Sweeney (Emily's older sister), Mazdzer and Terdiman had an exploratory conversation about putting their successful junior doubles team back together. In 2007 and 2008, they collaborated to win medals at the junior world championships.

Thereafter, Mazdzer decided to concentrate on singles, while Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania, went to the Sochi Games in doubles with Christian Niccum, and then qualified for South Korea with Matt Mortensen. Now, after all the retirements, Terdiman is hoping the pattern continues with his new old partner.

"It was a huge change when I went from Christian to Matt just on driving styles," said Terdiman, a two-time Olympian. "And now with Chris, actually it's a mixture of the two which is really nice for me. Chris is a big fan of letting the sled run which I think is great for our speed. Listening to the lines I've acquired from Matt and from the few years I've learned these tracks, we're hitting our driving points. We found some great speed early on here in training, and I'm hoping that just finds itself in our race format."

So now Terdiman, who was in limbo for months, and Mazdzer, always up for a new challenge, are a team with long distance input from Mortensen. The renewed partnership became official Oct. 15 when fall training opened in Lake Placid and they took their first trips of the season. They have been training together ever since, with Mazdzer also mixing in his singles training.

The reunification of this doubles team also means that USA Luge will have a viable entry in the team relay. When that event makes its season debut at Whistler, USA Luge, with West and Mazdzer, could have the two best reaction starts in the game, creating a noteworthy opportunity.

The Igls weekend will begin with Nations Cup qualifying on Friday morning, before World Cup women's singles and doubles on Saturday. The event concludes with men's singles followed by sprint racing in all disciplines on Sunday.

Live streaming will be offered all season on OlympicChannel.com. Post race coverage is also set for Nov. 24 on The Olympic Channel from 4 to 5:30 p.m., followed by NBC Sports Network Nov. 24 from 10-11 p.m.

 
 

 

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