USA Luge’s Erin Hamlin wins second world championship, taking sprint crown in Austria
Sweeney 4th, Morris 5th both just fractions from the podium
IGLS, Austria – Erin Hamlin, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion, captured her second luge world title Friday by winning the gold medal in the one-heat sprint race in Igls, Austria.
It was the opening event in the International Luge Federation’s (FIL) 47th annual World Championships. The American team also came within small fractions of adding more hardware, as Emily Sweeney was fourth, merely 0.005 of a second from a bronze medal. Taylor Morris raced to a career best fifth place result, only 0.02 from third place.
“We had extra training here Sunday and Monday which normally we wouldn’t have, so that was nice,” stated Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y. “The track is so different now than it was in the fall. We lucked out. We pretty much had perfect weather…..my week of training was awesome.”
Hamlin’s achievement was the first World Championship medal for USA Luge at the worlds since her victory and the bronze medal in doubles for Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin at the same 2009 event. It’s the team’s 11th world championship medal.
“I had really solid training all week,” said Hamlin. “I’m always pretty comfortable here.” She has one career World Cup medal at this site of two Olympic Winter Games in the Tyrolean Alps.
“It’s a short track so the starts aren’t always helpful for me here. The sprint makes that a little less of a factor. I think I had a good chance today and I’m glad that I capitalized on that and had a solid race.”
The 30-year-old’s winning time was 30.074 seconds in a format where the timing begins 100 meters below the start handles, hence the sprint, or flying start, into the run.
In typical Igls fashion, the competition wasthisclose. Hamlin’s margin of victory over Martina Kocher, of Switzerland, was 0.009 of a second. It was Kocher’s third career medal, all in the last two World Championships. German Tatjana Huefner took the bronze medal, 0.01 behind Hamlin.
“Going into the race I felt pretty comfortable, but it’s a sprint. You can only feel so comfortable,” the winner added. “Really anything can happen. Racing is so close.”
Yes. Just ask Sweeney. The Suffield, Conn. racer had the fourth fastest time of 30.089.
“My run was pretty good,” reflected Sweeney, who’s right wrist was surgically repaired in late summer. “I had some nerves at the start just because I haven’t been pulling as many starts as I’d like to and have the comfort level there. But I made it through there pretty well. I had a little mistake at the beginning of the labyrinth. Nothing major, so I was pretty excited when I came up the outrun.
“It was an agonizing five-thousandths of a second that kept me off the podium, which at first is one of those ‘Come on’ moments. (But) when I take a step back and look at it, being fourth at the sprint world championships is pretty great so I’m okay with it.”
Summer Britcher, 2014 Olympian from Glen Rock, Pa., took 11th, 0.067 behind the winner, further illustrating the tight nature of racing here.
Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., did not qualify into the top 15 final field earlier in the day.
Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, who qualified 14th for the men’s sprint, was the second slider down the track and threw down a flawless run. He occupied the leader’s box for some 10 sleds before being bumped down to fifth.
Wolfgang Kindl, on his home track, dominated training sessions and then won his first world title. In recent years, the 2008 World Junior Champion has become a World Cup medal machine. Leading up to Igls, Kindl has six podiums to his credit in nine starts.
While some of the racers had issues exiting curve nine, Kindl’s sled looked like it was on rails and he was just along for the ride. Such was the nature of his calm sliding demeanor.
The gold medalist, who had the second fastest qualifying time to Italian Dominik Fischnaller, crossed the finish line in 32.467. Roman Repilov, of Russia, added to his breakout season with the silver medal in 32.479, followed by Fischnaller in 32.590.
Germany was conspicuous by its absence as all three struggled. The best was Andi Langenhan in sixth place, followed by double Olympic gold medal winner Felix Loch in 10th.
Repilov’s teammate and 2015 World Champion, Semen Pavlichenko, placed fourth, with Morris, in the run of his life, fifth in 32.611 and within reach of his first podium result.
“As an athlete, in your heart of hearts you always want that,” commented Morris. “I wasn’t honestly sure. I came down and saw number one and was hoping I could hang on to it for a while. I was up there (leader’s box) a whole lot longer than I expected.
“When it came down to the final five sleds I was thinking it’s possible. Somebody could mess up. Anything is possible in the sprint race. With it being such a tight race, any little mistake, especially at the top, was going to be a big one for us. I was just really ecstatic to be up there and be a part of it all.”
Sochi Olympian and three-time World Cup winner, Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn., was 14th in 32.791.
Two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., and World Cup rookie Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., in his first trip to the World Championships, did not qualify for the field of 15.
The sprint format offered up a change in the script that was written over the past two World Cup seasons. In 2016-2017, Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken have won seven of nine races to date, with teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt taking the remaining gold medals. But in the majors – Olympics and World Championships – the Tobis have dominated.
It was that way in the sprint doubles race, with Wendl and Arlt winning by a “lopsided” tenth of a second, while the two earlier events split hairs.
The top American sled of Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., tied for seventh place. An early mistake cost the third place World Cup team a chance at the podium.
The gold medalists clocked 29.843, while Eggert Benecken settled for the bronze medal in 29.956. The team that came between them, Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, almost didn’t compete. Fischer recently was diagnosed with myocarditis, causing the twosome to miss a pair of World Cups. The 31-year-old Fischler was only cleared to race last week.
Their run started poorly as Penz’ right leg slipped off the runner. Shortly thereafter, they hugged the start curve too much and kissed off the opposite wall.
Despite the errors, Penz and Fischler stayed calm and used track knowledge to recoup the loss and slid to the silver medal in 29.949.
Mortensen and Terdiman were timed in 30.058. They, too, had issues out of the gate. The correct line from the start handles is to favor the right side to get around the start curve which bends left. But their sled went too far right and scraped the wall, essentially ending their chances.
The second USA Luge sled in the field raced to 11th place. Justin Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y., a Lake Placid Volunteer Fireman, and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., registered 30.181.
The team of Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich., and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah, did not qualify in the morning. However, they and their teammates will get another chance in Saturday’s World Championship doubles race. The event follows the women’s singles, which opens the second day of competition at 4 AM EST.
All World Championship races are being streamed live by the FIL with Tim Singer calling the action, accompanied by guest analysts. You can access the coverage via www.usaluge.org.
NBC Sports Network will carry coverage on Sunday, January 29, from 3:30-4:30 PM EST. Commentary will be provided by Bill Doleman and 2014 U.S. Olympian Kate Hansen.
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