All of the 2010 Olympic luge gold medalists claimed hardware in the World Cup held Dec. 9-10, 2011, in Whistler, B.C., Canada. While the track on Blackcomb Mountain was slightly reconfigured this off-season, the results differed little.
Serve the curve.
The doubles kicked off the World Cup on Friday afternoon, and Austria’s Andreas and Wolfgang Linger repeated their 2010 Olympic gold medal performance. The team of Linger/Linger finished in first with a two-heat time of one minute, 22.644 seconds, and set the track record of 41.255 in their first run.
The doubles, as all luge disciplines in the 2010 Olympics, started one start height lower due to the tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili during an Olympic training run on this track. This means that the doubles, as the women, enter the track at curve 6 at an angle that is very sharp. While each team faces the same difficult curve, it basically reduces this race to those doubles teams that can correctly negotiate the first 50 meters of track correctly. Scrubbing off too much speed at the top of the Whistler track will immediately take you out of the medal hunt, especially in a field as competitive as doubles, as this track is very fast at the bottom.
“The atmosphere here is great and we like the track,” Andreas Linger was quoted on the International Luge Federation (FIL) website. “Well, if they would change the start just a little bit it would be perfect.” Well said, Andreas.
Second place went to another Austrian team, the tandem of Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, with a time of 1:22.888. The bronze went to Italians Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber at 1:22.943. The first 10 places in the doubles race were separated by only .509 seconds.
2010 Olympic silver medalists Andris and Juris Šics didn’t compete, as Juris is still recovering from a nasty off-season car accident. The bronze medalists from the 2010 Games, Patric Leitner and Alexander Resch, have retired.
Team USA was led by Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall in 12th place, .735 seconds out of first. They had the 13th fastest run in each heat.
America’s other entrant, the team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman, found themselves in 12th place after their first run but were disqualified before the second heat when the temperature of their steels was found to be slightly warmer than the control temperature.
Niccum/Terdiman posted a time that was almost the same as their Thursday bronze medal Nations Cup time, while the winner of that race, Germany’s Ronny Pietrasik and Christian Weise, slid .103 faster than their Nations Cup time en route to a fourth place World Cup finish.
The young American team of Shane Hook and Zachary Clark finshed in 18th place with a time of 1:27.434.
Grip. Rip. Slide.
There’s a saying in luge that you can’t win a race at the start, but you can lose it. Well, it’s time to call BS on that one, at least as it relates to the Whistler track, as the sliders with the fastest starts took the top seven spots in the men’s race.
As in the 2010 Olympics, the men slid one start lower on the ramp originally designated for the ladies, and it is a very easy and flat ramp. Combine this with a track that isn’t particularly demanding and one that gains speed quickly, and you have a recipe for a 1200 meter start competition.
Germany’s Felix Loch repeated his 2010 Olympic triumph with a first place finish in 1:36.480. Johannes Ludwig, also of Germany, took home silver at 1:36.758 and set the track start record in his first run. He was followed closely by teammate and 2010 Olympic silver medalist David Möller at 1:36.778.
Oh, there was another German in fourth place. Andi Langenhan tripped the timing eye at 1:36.946. And sixth place went to Ralf Palik, also from Team Deutschland, at 1:37.202. Canada’s Samuel Edney managed to sneak into fifth place with a time of 1:37.061.
“It has to be acknowledged that German lugers have a bit of an advantage with this start,” Loch is quoted on the FIL website. “Thanks to our good performances at the start, our German team has an advantage – we have to admit that,” added Möller. Captain Obvious has spoken.
The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist from Italy, Armin Zöggeler, finished in an uncharacteristic 13th place and couldn’t make up for his slow start. Even Russia’s Albert Demtchenko couldn’t overcome his slow start, but he did use his, ahem, momentum to move up a few places and finish in eighth at 1:37.283. Memo to Albert: Russia hired Germany’s former start trainer – you might want to introduce yourself.
The Americans qualified two young sliders for this race. Taylor Morris finished in 25th at 1:38.317, and Isaac Underwood was close behind in 28th at 1:38.632. Psst, USA men’s sliders, there’s a reason you need to train like an animal every day in the summer – please see the previous German quotes.
The women’s race was very close, with the top 13 sleds separated by only.983 seconds. While the racing was close, the results were similar to the 2010 Olympics.
First place went to 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Natalie Geisenberger of Germany with a time of 1:23.439. Geisenberger also managed to lower the start record in her second run. The 2010 Olympic gold medal winner, Germany’s Tatjana Hüfner, finished a scant .043 behind Geisenberger after she said she didn’t catch hold of her sled handles. Hüfner settled for the silver. Third place went to Russian Tatiana Ivanova at 1:23.606. Canada’s Alex Gough just missed the bronze at 1:23.685 and finished fourth.
America was led by 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin. She finished sixth with a time of 1:23.909. Hamlin is certainly showing speed – she made up more time than any other top-eight competitor after the start split.
“It was a good two solid runs. Better than the last time here,” said Hamlin in an interview with Gordy Sheer from USA Luge. Hamlin finished 16th place at the 2010 Olympics after having trouble negotiating the start curve. While Hamlin said that her start curves were good, she mentioned that she’d done even better in training.
“Erin had two good runs,” said Mark Grimmette, USA Luge head coach and program director, in an interview with Sheer. “She had one or two small mistakes . . . she slid fast with the starts she had.”
The other American slider, Ashley Walden, posted start splits similar to Hamlin’s but she couldn’t hold the speed and finished in 22nd place.
Deutschland über alles
The Team Relay event concluded the Whistler World Cup as Germany avenged their defeat by Canada in the first World Cup. The German team’s combined time of 2:18.773 bested the host Canadians by .228 seconds. Russia finished in third place, .389 seconds behind the Germans.
The American team finished in sixth place with a total time of 2:20.280. Hamlin led off with the second fastest women’s time, just .017 behind Germany’s Geisenberger.
“I had a pretty awesome run in the relay,” Hamlin was quoted on the USA Luge website. “In the relay, I let things flow at the bottom and I didn’t force it to be there.”
Hamlin was followed by Matheson and he posted the slowest time of the men in the eight-team field. The Americans are fielding a young men’s team for the first half of the World Cup season, as their top male slider, Chris Mazdzer, chose to stay home and do some equipment testing. Without Mazdzer, it will be tough sledding for the Americans to medal in the Team Relay.
The doubles team of Niccum/Terdiman followed up with “a pretty bad run,” according to Grimmette. “Their feet were down for a good portion of it [the run].” Their time of 47.484 was sixth fastest.
The World Cup now moves east to Calgary, Alberta, site of the 1988 Olympics. Complete Whistler race results can be found on the USA Luge website.