“Some small mistakes were made today,” stated USA Luge Head Coach and Sports Program Director Mark Grimmette. And on the short and relatively easy luge track in Igls, just outside of Innsbruck, Austria, that’s all it takes to for an athlete to fall out of medal contention.
American athletes were kept off of the podium by strong results from Germany and Austria in the doubles and women’s races that were held this morning on the 1976 Olympic luge run. Unseasonably warm and dry weather for the past two months has kept the snow off of the local mountains, but it made for a pretty good track, according to Grimmette.
In the women’s race, the German Olympic and World Champion Tatjana Huefner picked up where she left off last season, recording the fastest time in each heat en route to a total winning time of one minute, 19.353 seconds. Second place went to German Anke Wischnewski at 1:19.554 and third place to Canada’a Alex Gough at 1:19.628.
The United States was led by Erin Hamlin in seventh place with a total time of 1:19.927. Ashley Walden, America’s second entrant, finished in 13th place with a total time of 1:20.130. The top 15 finishers were separated by only .994 seconds on the very short 870 meter course.
“Erin had a couple [of mistakes] in both of her runs, but she had some pretty good speed,” said Grimmette.
In the doubles race, the home team came through with Austria claiming two medals. First place went to the former junior World Champion team of Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, who recorded the first and second fastest heats for a total time of 1:19.099. Second place went to the young Russian team of Vladislav Yuzhakov and Vladimir Makhnutin, who recorded their best World Cup finish ever, just .076 seconds behind Penz/Fischler. Third place went to the veteran Olympic champion and current World Champion Austrian team of Andreas Linger and Wolfgang Linger, at 1:19.187.
America’s top finish was from the team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman, who placed in sixth with a time of 1:19.361. Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall, also of the USA, couldn’t capitalize on their quick start times and finished in 11th.
The doubles field is incredible competitive on the senior World Cup circuit, especially on a short course like Igls. Over two heats and 1760 meters of sliding, the first six places were separated by only .262 seconds, the top 15 by only .717 seconds. The difference between seventh and 12th place was only .081 seconds.
“Christian had some trouble in the labyrinth on the first run and some issues up top as well [on the second run],” said Grimmette.
When asked about the state of the team by USA Luge Press Coordinator Sandy Caligiore, Grimmette replied that “the team was really anxious this weekend to get racing. Christian and Jayson are right there – they’ve got good speed. So does Erin. But we’ve got a little bit of work to do to get people a little bit faster.”
After the men’s race and the Team Relay event tomorrow, the team will head to the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, B.C., Canada for a week of training before the next World Cup.
“What’s going to be good is getting another week of training in Whistler going into this week,” Grimmette added. “We can use that time to fine tune things a little bit more and keep it moving forward.”
Results of the Igls World cup can be found at the USA Luge website.