In a pair of World Cup races Saturday impacted by wet and warm conditions, two-time Olympian Summer Britcher paced the USA Luge effort by placing 10th in singles at the 2014 Olympic site. Teammate Ashley Farquharson took 12th.
The doubles team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman, after not qualifying a week ago in China, put down an 11th place performance.
This was the first of two consecutive weekends in the Western Caucasus Mountains above Sochi, and replaced events that were originally slated for Whistler and Lake Placid.
Russia and Latvia, the teams most familiar with the Sanki Sliding Center, dominated the medals, although German Anna Berreiter came through in the final heat to capture the women’s event. It was a story comparable to the 2020 World Championships on this track where the home nation reaped the benefits of course familiarity.
Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, rallied from 13th place to post the fifth fastest final run. She was nearly half of a second from Berreiter, who made a strong statement to be one of Germany’s three women athletes at the upcoming Olympic Games which will take place in about 10 weeks.
All three United States sleds checked a box toward Olympic qualification, led by Farquharson. The Park City, Utah slider, now with two top 13 results to begin the season (eighth and 12th), has entirely satisfied a Tier B qualification.
“Our second World Cup in Sochi today was exciting,” Farquharson posted on Facebook. She was seventh after the opening run. “The weather was very rainy and the track wasn’t holding up super well. Even though both my runs were very consistent I fell into 12th after the second. It wasn’t the result I was hoping for, but it was still solid, and it was enough to secure a B Tier which is a huge step in qualifying for the Games.”
Britcher’s 10th place gives her a start also on a Tier B qualification, while Mazdzer/Terdiman now have part of a Tier C qualification.
The USA Luge tier process is hierarchical and fluid in nature. Tier A supersedes all (at least one finish in the top five for all disciplines) and within each tier there are different levels of qualification.
Brittney Arndt, also of Park City, was on her way to a berth in the field Friday in the Nations Cup qualifying race, when she encountered difficulties late in the one-heat event and did not finish.
The doubles team of Zack DiGregorio, of Medway, Massachusetts, and Sean Hollander, of Lake Placid, in their first full season together, finished in 16th place.
The Eberspacher World Cup circuit will be used by American athletes to earn nominations to the 2022 Olympic team. The first seven races of the season will advance those sliders to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. That process will end on the weekend of Jan. 8 to 9 in Sigulda, Latvia.
Emily Sweeney, of Lake Placid, will not race in either of the Sochi weekends. A member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, she was prevented from traveling to Russia as a result of the U.S. Department of Defense’s policy which does not allow military personnel to enter that nation. She is currently training in Europe and will rejoin her teammates in two weeks in Altenberg, Germany for World Cup racing.
Dana Kellogg, of Chesterfield, Massachusetts, and doubles partner Duncan Segger, of Lake Placid, were in a similar position to Sweeney. To pursue Olympic qualification, Kellogg, with Segger, traveled to Russia to compete. Unfortunately, Kellogg injured a hand in mid-week training and could not enter the Nations Cup race to qualify for the World Cup. They are expected to try again next week on this track.
World Cup racing
continues on Sunday
Springlike weather once again dominated the Eberspacher World Cup luge events near Sochi, Russia on Sunday. The combination of track conditions and start numbers were factors in the men’s singles and team relay competitions.
Although the weather was irregular, the winners of the six medals were anything but.
After scoring a silver medal a week ago in the Beijing team relay, the American squad, with Britcher and Tucker West in singles, along with Mazdzer and Terdiman in doubles, settled for eighth place. Russia, a DNF last Sunday in China, captured this relay by nearly 1.3 seconds over Germany.
Starting as the fourth team on the 2014 Olympic course but the first of the contending nations, the home crew grabbed the early lead and then celebrated for over 30 minutes as team after team tried in vain to race through the slowing ice conditions, thanks to rain and temps in the 40s.
Earlier, West was the top United States slider in the singles event, taking 17th in a race that started more promising for the 2014 and 2018 Olympian. West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, posted start times that were second fastest and fastest, respectively. He stood in seventh place at the break before a late second run start position with no speed in the track slid him backward.
Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medal winner and former Saranac Lake resident, accelerated into fifth place at the mid-point of the race, but a late second run start pushed him back to 20th. Nevertheless, this was a marked improvement after not qualifying in Beijing last week, and he is now getting accustomed to a new singles sled.
Jonny Gustafson, seeking his first Olympic berth, was 24th (ninth after one run) on borrowed equipment.
When the racing materials were transported from Beijing to Sochi on Nov. 22, 30 sled boxes remained behind in customs. Gustafson’s was one of those. As of Sunday, that gear has not left China.
In a display of the friendliness among luge nations, the Russian team gave Gustafson a sled from their fleet so he could train and compete over the weekend. Given the construction and personalization of sleds for each athlete, the situation was not ideal for the competitor from Massena, but at least he could participate.
The gesture by the home team, nevertheless, was magnanimous. It recalled a time nearly four years ago when a struggling Mazdzer, of Salt Lake City, went to the season-ending World Cup race in January 2018 just prior to the Olympic Winter Games. Russian World Champion Semen Pavlichenko gave Mazdzer his sled and the USA Luge racer finished sixth, his best result in two years. Two weeks later, Mazdzer took that experience back to his own sled and raced to his Olympic medal.
With Sunday’s result, West, with a pair of top 21 placings to date, has completed two of the three criteria for Tier C Olympic qualification. A top 16 will finish that job. The qualifying process runs through the first seven World Cup meets and concludes Jan. 8 to 9 in Sigulda, Latvia.
After last week’s runner-up effort in Beijing, the combination of track conditions and pilot errors sent the United States well down the results list at the Sanki venue. The brightest spot in the team’s performance was West’s reaction time which was, as usual, the fastest in the field.
Through two of six team relays this season, USA Luge is currently fourth, but just four points from second-place Germany.
Austria won in Beijing but could do no better than sixth place on Sunday. They retain the season-long lead with 150 World Cup points. Germany has 131, Latvia has 130, the U.S., 127 and Italy, 125.
In recent years, the World Cup tour has seen a number of events such as this where the weather has been a major factor in determining race runs and medals. Looking ahead to the Winter Games in just 10 weeks, races will be held at night when temps will be colder.
To give this some Olympic context, according to daily averages compiled by WeatherSpark, Yanqing daytime highs in February should be just below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime readings between 15 and 20 degrees.