Canada’s Alex Gough thrilled the hometown crowd by winning the women’s division of the Calgary Luge World Cup, held at Canada Olympic Park outside of Calgary, Alberta, on Dec. 16-17, 2011. Germany claimed the gold medals in the men’s and doubles races.
Racing began Friday with the women’s event as gusty winds greeted the sliders, especially in the first heat. Gough used the training that she and her teammates frequently perform in these windy conditions to her advantage, along with a sliding line that mostly avoided a bump at the exit of curve eight, to post the fastest time in each run and win with a two-heat total of one minute, 34.212 seconds. Germany’s Tatjana Hüfner claimed silver at 1:34.324, and Russia’s Tatiana Ivanova grabbed the bronze at 1:34.724.
The top six spots were separated by an uncharacteristically large gap of 1.163 seconds, a testament to the difficult sliding conditions.
Emily Sweeney posted the top American finish. She finished just outside of her top-10 goal, ending up in 12th with a time of 1:35.832. She was in 8th place after her first run but experienced problems at the bottom of the track in her second run.
“The first run was all right,” Sweeney said in an interview with Gordy Sheer of USA Luge. “Not one of my best but I did have a good start.” Sweeney said she had a little trouble out of curve 10 with some skidding. On her second run, Sweeney commented that she had some bobbles at the start, and then trouble entering the lower labyrinth that caught up with her in curve 12 and resulted in some major skidding.
2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin posted the next-best finish for the USA, fighting back after a tough first run to finish 16th at 1:37.293. Hamlin’s second run was the fourth fastest of that heat.
“Big issue with curve eight,” Hamlin stated to Sheer after the race with a wry smile that made clear she was stating the obvious. The large bump at the exit of curve eight plagued many sliders during this race, asathletes needed to exit curve eight a little earlier than normal to avoid most of this hazard. Hamlin’s line in her first run didn’t allow her to avoid the bump and her exit of eight cost a large amount of time.
“The second run was still a little shaky in spots but more of what I would’ve liked to have seen in the first run,” Hamlin concluded.
The other American sliders, Nations Cup qualifiers Ashley Walden and Kate Hansen, each had troubles in their runs and finished in 19th and 20th place, respectively, with total times of 1:38.550 and 1:44.635.
Saturday arrived and the men and doubles took to the track. The winds died down and the track crew worked to diminish the bump at the exit of curve eight, and the race results were more consistent with recent World Cup events.
Oktoberfest was two months ago but someone forgot to tell the German men, as they swept all three medals. Andi Langenhan was consistent, posting the first and second fastest heats as he won gold at 1:29.406. His teammate Felix Loch just missed the track record on his second run and grabbed the silver at 1:29.500. David Möller finished in third at 1:29.657. Italy’s Armin Zöggeler couldn’t make up for his slow start and ran out of track, finishing in fourth.
The young American team, all Nations Cup qualifiers, had a rough go of it. Even though the World Cup ice was faster than in the Nations Cup, no USA athlete could improve considerably from their Nations Cup time.
Isaac Underwood was the top American, finishing in 25th with a time of 1:32.281, improving over his shaky first run. Taylor Morris, the Nations Cup gold medalist, recorded runs that were each .6 seconds slower than his Nations Cup time and ended up in 27th at 1:32.449. He was followed by Trent Matheson in 28th place at 1:32.755.
The Calgary World Cup concluded with the doubles event, as no Team Relay was scheduled. Germany again dominated, with Team Tobias (Wendl and Arlt) winning with a time of 1:27.661. They were closely followed by Austria’s Lingers (Andreas and Wolfgang) at 1:27.693. Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken claimed bronze at 1:27.829.
Americans Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall showed the speed they’ve been building and tied their best-ever World Cup finish with a fifth-place time of 1:27.919. Their second run was the fourth fastest of the heat, but they had some problems in their first heat.
Griffall commented that the start in their first run wasn’t ideal and they entered the start curve a little too much in the middle (instead of early) and they cut some ice. They also hung on the end of their exit of the Kreisel (curve nine), sending them late into curve 10 and throwing off their rhythm on the bottom section of the track.
“It was close after the first run, so we knew the second run going into it that we just had to go for it,” said Griffall.
Mortensen, sporting a very stylish moustache, explained to Sheer that in order to slide fast he tried to make the second run just like any of the normal training runs that he’d already had in Calgary. Mortensen said, ”If I just lay back and take it down nice and smooth that we’d be able to move up a couple of spots and that’s exactly what we did.”
Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman finished in eighth place at 1:28.110, .449 seconds out of first place. Junior National Team sliders Jacob Hyrns and Andrew Sherk posted the tenth-fastest run in the first heat, but had trouble in their second run and finished in 17th place at 1:29.747.
Complete race results are posted at the USA Luge website.
The World Cup will resume with racing in Königssee, Germany, Jan. 5-6, 2011.