Farquharson, Smith, Bottger/Arp win first of 2 Norton Junior National Seeding Races

Athletes battle severe cold and difficult ice conditions in Lake Placid



LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – All you needed to know about the first day of the USA Luge Norton Junior National Championships and seeding races was the fact that no athletes volunteered to forerun the races.


With temperatures of minus seven Fahrenheit and a wind chill of 24 below zero, it was easy to see why forerunners opted out. And for those who raced in the 2017 edition of these events, the brutal conditions and resulting hard ice made it a battle just to control the sled and reach the finish line twice.


Gavin Shamis, of Shelburne, Vt., who took a bronze medal as others faltered, remarked about the difficulty of steering his sled.


Ian Smith didn’t avoid the cold, but kept his sled accelerating on his way to victory in the first of two seeding races. Smith, of Carlisle, Mass., gave up time at the start to Sean Hollander, but in both heats, the Lake Placid racer, who dominated all the intermediate times, struggled through the “heart” (final three turns) of the Mount Van Hoevenberg track and settled for a silver medal.


Hollander captured the second youth seeding race last Sunday and finished runner-up in the chase for the Youth A national crown.


“It was tough ice out there,” said Smith, who clocked the two best individual runs and totaled 1 minute, 44.991 seconds. “I just made sure I laid my head back and got the job done.”

Hollander, 10th in the recent Youth A World Cup tour, registered 1:45.296. Shamis, one of two cancer survivors in USA Luge’s younger ranks, came from fifth place after one run and landed in third place in 1:46.815.


Zachary DiGregorio, of Medway, Mass., a double medalist in last week’s Norton Youth A events including the national championship, sat in third place at the mid-point of the race, but struggled at the end of the final leg, and fell back to fourth.


With Brittney Arndt, of Park City, Utah, resting an injured knee, the women’s division this weekend should be even money for several athletes. Arndt swept the 2016 series last March which, like this year, featured three races in two days.


Ashley Farquharson, also of Park City, staked the early claim to the nationals throne, which concludes Sunday. She rode a third place overall Youth A World Cup finish this winter into Lake Placid and took the opening Norton seeding race. Her two runs topped the field as Farquharson recorded 1:30.042.


“It’s been really good sliding on the home track before the season is over,” she remarked. “It’s always fun and topping it off is always good.”


Sophie Kirkby, of Ray Brook, N.Y., just 10 miles from this venue, was the silver medalist in 1:30.850. Kirkby won all three youth competitions a week ago.


The bronze medal was taken by Grace Weinberg, of Pittsfield, Vt., in 1:31.333.


As is the case at the Winter Olympics, the singles races will be decided Sunday by the total of all four runs over the two days.


For the first time in recent memory, there was a field of junior doubles sleds. Dana Kellogg, of Chesterfield, Mass., and teammate, Duncan Segger, of Lake Placid, also a cancer survivor, were the prohibitive favorites and played the role to perfection.


After taking a formidable first run advantage, however, they were overweight, leading to a post-run disqualification.


They’ll get a second chance Sunday as the second seeding race will also serve as the Norton National Championship event for doubles.


The seeding run victory went to Eamonn Bottger and Jett Arp, both of Burlington, Vt., whose two trips accrued a time of 1:33.198.


“It (the weather) was definitely a challenge,” stated Bottger, the team’s front driver. “Jett, keeping his shoulders back and really staying relaxed, helped a lot. And it was really nice just to be able to keep it together both runs.”


Arp, the 2017 Youth B national champion last weekend in singles, made the switch to back driver. It’s a role where the athlete blindly steers the rear of the sled.


“The biggest change is trying to keep my shoulders back as hard as possible,” stated Arp. “And making sure they don’t come up, or else the doubles sled will get out of control.”

First run leaders Luke Voegeli and Michael O’Gara were second in 1:45.172. Voegeli, of Sun Prairie, Wisc., and O’Gara, of La Crescenta, Calif., were headed to victory in the final leg until a crash derailed them. They barely got their sled across the finish line together.


The race schedule resumes Sunday at 9 AM ET with the second seeding race, which will also determine the Norton singles winners.


Live web streaming will be available at www.usaluge.org. The post-race award ceremony will air on Facebook Live (LugeUSA) at approximately 11:15 AM ET.


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