American luge athletes took four of the nine podium spots during the World Cup qualifying Nations Cup race, held at Canada Olympic Park on the outskirts of Calgary, Alberta, on Dec. 15, 2011.
The infusion of sliders from the U.S. Junior National Team (JNT) has allowed the USA to qualify the maximum number of their available sleds for this weekend’s World Cup – the first time this season that this has been accomplished by the American team.
The men raced first and 20-year-old Taylor Morris started things off with a gold-medal-winning performance. Morris, from Moscow, Idaho, tied with Russian Evgeniy Voskresenskiy with a one-heat time of 45.625. German Ralf Palik won the bronze at 45.688. The top three sleds were separated by only .063 seconds.
Americans Isaac Underwood (10th place, 46.034) and Trent Matheson (13th place, 46.444) also qualified to race in the World Cup.
The women’s race came next, with Suffield, Connecticut’s own smilin’ Emily Sweeney taking home a silver medal. Sweeney’s time of 47.414 was just .011 seconds behind winner Sandra Gasparini. Sweeney actually led midway through her heat but had a little trouble exiting curve 9 and that bobble eventually cost her some time. Canadian Kimberly McRae finished in third at 47.472. Just like the men’s race, the women were very close and the top three positions were separated by only .069 seconds.
“It was a really good showing for USA tonight,” JNT member Sweeney was quoted on the USA Luge website. “I’m really excited to be with the seniors and to be able to compete against the best. I was pretty surprised with my results tonight. I had my personal best start so I’m stoked about that, but I had some troubles out of Kreisel (circle) and they caught up with me near the end. I just hope tomorrow will be a good ending for the first half and a good start to Christmas break.”
JNT athlete Kate Hansen (sixth place, 47.689) and Ashley Walden (seventh place, 47.825) will join Sweeney and Erin Hamlin in Friday’s World Cup. Hamlin was already pre-qualified for the World Cup based upon her previous results.
The Nations Cup concluded with the doubles race and the USA grabbed two more medals. Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman finished in second place with a time of 44.373, and JNT sliders Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk were close behind in third at 44.417. The race was won by Germans Ronny Pietrasik and Christian Weise.
The American doubles team of Shane Hook and Zachary Clark finished in 10th at 45.214 but will not race in the World Cup, as they lost a race-off with Hyrns/Sherk earlier in the week.
Niccum/Terdiman and Hyrns/Sherk will join the pre-qualified American doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall.
No Team Relay is scheduled for the Calgary World Cup, as Canada Olympic Park has yet to upgrade their track with the necessary Team Relay timing gates and touch pads. Because of the high cost of these items (roughly $30,000) the International Luge Federation is allowing a grace period for tracks to comply with the new Team Relay upgrades.
The Calgary luge World Cup kicks off Friday with the women’s singles race at 8 p.m. EST. On Saturday, the men and doubles start racing at 5:30 p.m. EST. Final race results will be posted on the USA Luge website.