Britcher 6th, Hamlin 8th, Mortensen/Terdiman 11th in Oberhof World Cup
Germans dominate at home grabbing 5 of 6 medals
OBERHOF, Germany – This region in Thuringia is well known as a luge, biathlon and Nordic skiing hotbed.
In a good snow year, residents and visitors can be seen running their errands on cross country skis. Parents pull their children through the village on small wooden luge sleds.
In any year, German racers can be seen dominating the World Cup podium on this luge-centric track. Saturday was no different as German women ran the table, taking first through third places, led by Dajana Eitberger. The winner overcame Natalie Geisenberger’s second heat track record en route to the victory.
Earlier in the day, despite what Toni Eggert said were “disastrous practice runs,” he teamed with Sascha Benecken, as the team of the year led a 1-2-4 German doubles performance.
Eitberger, bolstered by hometown supporters, picked up her second win of the season after the Lake Placid sprint cup. Despite some errors, she led the opening leg and was right behind Geisenberger’s second heat time. Eitberger clocked 1 minute, 22.213 seconds to Geisenberger’s 1:22.260. Tatjana Huefner, back after sitting out last week with a leg issue, completed the medal sweep with the bronze medal time of 1:22.546.
USA Luge’s best on this day, before a large and boisterous audience, was Summer Britcher taking sixth, improving from eighth place at the intermission. The Glen Rock, Pa. athlete continued her steady sliding with just two races remaining on the World Cup campaign. She was timed in 1:22.865.
“The race went alright. I had two pretty decent runs,” said the two-time Olympian, who had the third and fourth fastest starts in each heat, respectively. “I definitely felt like they (runs) weren’t perfect. There was still some time in there, some small corrections I had to make. I didn’t let the sled go as much as I would have liked to.
“I was really happy with my start times. They were by far my personal best start times (here). That’s something that’s going to be key knowing where I need to be strength-wise and recovery-wise going into the next couple of weeks, leading into the Games.”
Going back to the resumption of the World Cup circuit last weekend in Koenigssee, Britcher has accumulated a streak of consistent runs. Her Oberhof efforts occurred after dismal track conditions to conclude training on Friday.
“So this was a big problem we had here, and it comes down to either the FIL or the organizers of the World Cup in Oberhof having, in my opinion, no integrity. It’s definitely not the track crew’s fault. They were sent home pretty early in the day (Friday), and there was no track prep done within two hours before the doubles training, and the men didn’t even start for over an hour after that. So the track conditions for our final training run were, honestly, pathetic and unacceptable. And I’m really disappointed to see that the FIL didn’t do anything about that.”
Britcher applauded the Oberhof crew by saying that training conditions earlier in the week were excellent, and the ice was built very well. But with no course preparation before the seeded group’s training session Friday, she said the final men’s training run was three seconds slower than the Nations Cup qualifier earlier the day.
“This is a World Cup, and the track crew wasn’t even at the track during the A seed (training) run or leading up to it,” continued Britcher, whose result here was her best in Oberhof.
To emphasize her points, not even the home team was content as virtually all German athletes opted out of the A seed session due to poor, slow ice. Eitberger, in fact, added that Friday training conditions were “atrocious”.
Four-time Olympian and Sochi bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., was eighth in her final World Cup singles race on German soil after starting with the fifth best opening heat. She will retire in a month after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“I had a couple of mistakes in the second,” stated Hamlin, whose two legs totaled 1:22.911. “I dropped my feet out of (curve) 11. I don’t think I needed to. That I probably could have saved, and then in the exit of 13, I drove a little too long.
“I don’t have a history of great racing at Oberhof. I think I got sixth place once or twice, maybe. Other than that, barely into the top 10 is the norm so I’m obviously disappointed I didn’t keep my spot today. That would have been really nice. But we learned a lot today. I had good starts and it was still a productive day even though I lost a few spots.”
Hamlin gets the Sunday start in the team relay by virtue of her U.S.-best single heat time.
Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., strained her neck earlier in the week in a training run. The first-time Olympian skipped the seeded training session as well as this race.
“It’s frustrating but I’m keeping my priorities straight,” she commented on social media. “I want to be in my best shape heading into Pyeongchang.” With her Winterberg sprint victory, the 24-year-old remains the only non-German woman to win this season.
In the overall World Cup chase, Geisenberger, the 2014 Olympic gold medal winner, still holds the lead with 795 points on the strength of five gold, one silver and three bronze medals. Eitberger is next with 618, while Huefner, a winner of all three Olympic medals, is third at 585.
Britcher leads the American contingent in fifth place. She has 446 World Cup points. Hamlin is ranked seventh with 354, and Sweeney ninth with 336. Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., is training in Lake Placid, and is 36th with 51 points.
Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., placed 11th in doubles, while Justin Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., walked away from a crash above the finish line and did not get a second attempt.
The Oberhof course very seldom sees bobsleds or skeleton sleds, as its curve designs and combinations make it essentially a pure luge layout. It’s the only one in the world in the age of combination tracks. Oberhof is a place where local knowledge is money. Eitberger cashed in, and prior to that, so did 2017 World Champions Eggert and Benecken.
The duo has won seven of nine events to date, and came from behind in the second run to defeat 2014 Olympic gold medalists and first heat leaders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
Eggert and Benecken, in winning for the 30th time in the World Cup, clocked a total time of 1:21.535 seconds, only 0.007 of a second faster than Wendl and Arlt. Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, enjoying a consistent season that has seen them threaten the podium weekly, were third in 1:22.033. It was their fifth World Cup medal of the season. Penz was ecstatic to make it “onto the podium in the lion’s den.”
The top Germans now have 870 overall World Cup points; Wendl and Arlt have 652; Penz and Fischler are third with 546. Mortensen and Terdiman are sixth with 398 points. Krewson and Sherk are 14th with 238. Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Anthony Espinoza, of Park City, Utah, who continue to train in the U.S., are tied for 16th at 235 World Cup points.
The elimination of Italian doubles veterans Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber, in their 21st season, was the biggest story during the week. Oberstolz and Gruber were left home in the South Tyrol, as they were not selected for the Winter Olympics.
Ivan Nagler and Fabian Malleier, who raced as singles just two years ago in the Youth Olympic Games, were put together as a doubles team. The youngsters, with only three World Cup starts – all this season – have been in the top 10 in all three and will be taken to Pyeongchang.
And in a continuing story, the fate of Russian slider Tatyana Ivanova, fourth place Saturday, and head coach Albert Demchenko, will be decided by the end of January by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A total of 42 Russian athletes, caught up in the nation’s Sochi doping scandal, seek reinstatement from CAS. They have incurred a lifetime ban from the IOC, for their alleged compliance with the well-documented cheating scheme.
The fourth German World Cup race of the season concludes Sunday with men’s singles starting at 3:30 AM ET, followed by the team relay. Join Tim Singer and guest color analysts for all the action live on www.olympicchannel.com.
For complete results and interviews from today’s races, please log on to:
Notes to media:
USA Luge will have tentative press conferences in South Korea on Feb. 5 (singles) at 6 PM and Feb. 8 (doubles) at 4:30 PM. These will occur in the Mountain Press Center. All times local.
In addition, you will have access to our team in the mix zone after each training session and after each racing session at the Alpensia Sliding Centre, not between runs.
Finally, you are invited to participate in media calls on Jan. 16 at 2 PM ET, and Jan. 23 at 1 PM ET.
For more information on the Fastest Sport on Ice®, log on to www.usaluge.org