Winterberg, Germany - November 23, 2016 - USA Luge may be several thousand miles from its Lake Placid headquarters, but Winterberg, Germany, site of this weekend’s Viessmann World Cup opener in the Hochsauerland region, has all the accoutrements of home.
This major winter resort, featuring the sliding sports of luge, bobsled and skeleton, as well as skiing and snowboarding, is ready to welcome the top sliders on the World Cup tour for the first of nine stops.
The 14-turn Winterberg layout has delivered some of the fastest speeds the sport has seen, yet it demands technical precision starting with the 270-degree Omega curve at the top of the course, followed five curves later by the nearly 360-degree Kreisel (circle).
USA Luge brings a blend of youth and veterans to the initial challenge. The squad captured a team-record 18 World Cup medals last season. They also had a handful of fourth place finishes in January and February that were close to making the final figure look even more impressive.
The U.S. men’s team is led by Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y., who placed a career high third in last year’s World Cup standings. Upon concluding the season, he underwent a shoulder operation in the spring.
“We get a lot of respect and a lot of wandering eyes from the other teams. We’ve really perked up their (opponents) interests because we are a really young team,” said Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian who is also in the top 15 on the all-time World Cup victory list. “We’ve made a name for ourselves the past few years.”
Mazdzer, who scored a World Cup silver medal here last season in monsoon-like weather, is joined on the men’s team by the oncoming Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn. West, a Sochi Olympian, swept four fall races – the Norton National Championships and all three seeding races – and has a head of steam as the Saturday and Sunday events draw closer.
Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, and Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., round out the U.S. men’s lineup.
Sochi Olympian Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. and Riley Stohr of Whitehall, Mich. are currently sidelined with injuries. Once cleared, Kelly will resume training in the U.S., while Stohr could return to the national team later in the season.
Emily Sweeney and Summer Britcher have been the dominant American women through the fall period, as Britcher took her first Norton national title and the opening seeding race, while Sweeney collected victories in the final two seeding events. Both have been nursing problems that affect their effectiveness at the start.
Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., suffered an off-season wrist injury that required surgery in late summer. Her starts, as a result, have been less than 100 percent as she recovers. Yet the combination of talent and sled technology delivered her to the two domestic wins in the past month.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., also a Sochi Olympic team member, incurred a shoulder injury in recent weeks. She has been rehabilitating it and has essentially been using a gravity start instead of pulling and paddling.
Britcher finished fifth in last year’s World Cup campaign, highlighted by three victories that tied her for first place in that category with German Tatyana Huefner.
Erin Hamlin, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion, has quietly gone about the business of preparing for another season – something she’s done 18 times in an illustrious career.
The Remsen, N.Y. athlete knows from experience what this venue and region could present on race day.
“The weather is probably one of the biggest issues,” remarked Hamlin. “We’re always prepared for anything when we race in Winterberg. A big part of that is because the start for us has a lot of wide open space. Most of the tracks keep it covered, but Winterberg is wide open. So it can get pretty drastic. We’re crossing our fingers for nice weather. But other than that, it’s keeping things rolling in the same direction they’ve been going, getting equipment dialed in and staying healthy. And for me, enjoying it and getting the season started.”
The USA Luge women’s foursome is completed by Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., who raced her way onto the national team a year ago, and punctuated that achievement by securing her spot for this year.
Germaine, however, was another who was not spared the surgeon’s scalpel as she had a shoulder repaired last March.
Three doubles teams will hit the ice, led by Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman, the fifth-ranked team in last year’s World Cup. Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y, and Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., Norton National Champions from 2014-2016, are veteran doubles sliders who spent most of their careers with other sled mates.
Last season marked just their second year together, after becoming a team right after Sochi. They are part of a doubles group that takes a team-oriented attitude.
“With being on a team like this, a very elite team, everybody is doing very well,” stated Mortensen. “We’re doing our best to spread the knowledge amongst one another. Each person can push the next person forward so that’s what we try to do. Jayson and I try to do that with the doubles guys with our lines or with equipment set-up. We’re not keeping things from one another. We want the team as a whole to do well.”
Added Terdiman, “We as a team are much closer than the Europeans are. I think that’s because we start out at such a young age. Most of us don’t live in Lake Placid. We’re from all across the United States. We moved to the training center in Lake Placid and learned the sport together. We have this bond and even now, we’re still learning together, every day. It’s great to be part of this family and this program that’s getting stronger and stronger hopefully with each year to come.”
The three doubles teams shared victories in the three seeding races in October and November. Justin Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y., and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., grabbed a win as did Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich., and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah.
In just a matter of days, all three, with their eight singles teammates, will get a chance to make a first impression.
Saturday’s schedule features women’s singles and doubles starting at 4 AM ET, while Sunday’s program presents men’s singles and the BMW Sprint World Cup at 3:45 AM ET.
The competitions will be streamed live via the FIL website (www.fil-luge.org) with veteran luge announcer Tim Singer calling the action. Singer will be joined daily by guest athlete analysts.
After Winterberg, the Viessmann World Cup circuit visits Lake Placid (Dec.2-3), Whistler, B.C. (Dec. 9-10) and Park City, Utah (Dec. 16-17). The U.S. events will have additional live web streaming on the USA Luge website (www.usaluge.org), major cable coverage on NBC Sports Network and a live telecast Dec. 17 as part of the Winter Champions Series on NBC.