The first World Cup of the senior luge season ended today at the 1976 Olympic track in Igls, Austria, a small Tyrolean village just south of Innsbruck. The men’s singles event was held in addition to the Team Relay, a new medal event for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The USA finished sixth in the team relay, while Canada took the gold with a total time of two minutes, 8.774 seconds. The silver went to Germany at 2:08.991 and the bronze to Russia at 2:09.427. Germany won five of the six Team Relay events last season.
In the Team Relay event each country picks three athletes to participate: a woman, a man and a doubles team. All athletes slide from the same start, usually the women’s/doubles start. The female slider goes first and once she crosses the finish line hits a touchpad suspended above the track. This releases a gate at the start handles and the male athlete tries to react as quickly as possible and start his run down the track. Once he hits the touchpad at the finish, the gate at the handles is once again opened and the doubles sled is free to proceed. The timing clock does not stop between runs, placing a premium on the reaction time of the male slider and the double team sliders.
Erin Hamlin led off the American relay team with the third fastest run. She was followed by Trent Matheson, but his slow reaction time (12th out of the 13 teams competing) put the USA in a bit of a hole and his total run time was 11th fastest (although the Italian team was later disqualified and the Swiss team crashed, moving his time up to ninth fastest). To be fair to Matheson, he is a very young athlete and this is a season for him to gain valuable experience. Once Matheson hit the touchpad the doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman sped down the track, gaining speed and eventually moving the Americans to a sixth place overall finish with the fifth fastest doubles run of the Team Relay event. The total time for the USA team was 2:09.713.
The men’s singles event looked like the 2010 Olympics all over again, with Germany’s Felix Loch setting a track record in each heat as he claimed the gold with a total time of 1:40.270. David Möller, also of Germany, finished second at 1:40.573, and Italy’s Armin Zöggeler arrived in third at 1:40.627. Zöggeler was able to make up amazing amounts of time as he sped down the short Igls course, but his slower start times put him at too much of a deficit to the strong German sliders.
The USA had no entrants in the men’s race, as they failed to qualify any sliders in the previous Nations Cup race. Head Coach and Program Director Mark Grimmette is travelling with a very young group of men’s singles sliders for the first part of the World Cup season and veteran athlete Chris Mazdzer is expected to join the team in the second half of the season after performing equipment testing in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The senior World Cup circuit now moves on to Whistler, B.C., Canada for a week of training and then the next World Cup race on Dec. 9-10.
Complete race results can be found on the USA Luge web site.