Mazdzer, West, Gustafson sweep podium in Lillehammer Cup exhibition race to conclude first pre-season camp
LILLEHAMMER, Norway – Despite suffering a minor injury, Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer led an American sweep of the men’s podium Saturday as the teams attending a pre-season training camp raced the 1994 Olympic track in the annual Lillehammer Cup.
Tucker West, a two-time Olympian finished just 0.04 of a second behind his teammate over the two runs, while the emerging Jonny Gustafson rallied past Italian Olympian Dominik Fischnaller to take third place, 0.37 off the pace.
Summer Britcher, a 2014 and 2018 Olympic team member, went to the top of the track and raced with the men. The lone woman to do so, Britcher finished 11th.
In the women’s race, graduating junior Brittney Arndt took second place – she led the first leg – while Emily Sweeney was fourth in the unofficial season opener.
Although an exhibition race, for many teams, including USA Luge, it was their first time in competition since the Games in South Korea back in February.
Mazdzer was ecstatic with the team’s overall performance, he said, despite strong competition from Italy, Poland and Romania.
“The track has been absolutely beautiful – fast and consistent,” he said. “We’ve been training close to track record time, and during the first run I was able to set an unofficial track record even though I hit at the finish line and took a bunch of skin off my arm. Both runs were pretty much flawless until the exit of curve 13 where I had a little bit of difficulty, but luckily it was enough to hold on by a few hundredths over Tucker who was .01 off the previous track record his first run.
“Overall, it’s been fantastic training for the start of the year and I could not be happier. There is a lot less stress being that this is not an Olympic year, and I am really enjoying being back on the sled.”
The October swing continues next week in Sigulda, Latvia before the team returns to Lake Placid in mid-month.
The 30-year-old from Saranac Lake, N.Y. now training in Salt Lake City, had a combined time of 1 minute, 38.795 seconds. West, of Ridgefield, Conn. closed quickly in the second and final heat to record 1:38.842. Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., clocked the third place time of 1:39.172.
Fischnaller, fourth in Pyeongchang, stood third midway through the Lillehammer event, but opened the door for Gustafson in the second run. The American posted the third best heat time.
Britcher recorded an aggregate time of 1:41.131.
“I made some mistakes in the race, but this week has been a lot of fun just getting back on ice on one of my favorite tracks,” she commented.
While noteworthy for her to step outside the sport’s boundaries, the Glen Rock, Pa. athlete said this should be the norm.
“There’s no consistency or logic to the rule that women don’t slide from the same start as men,” she remarked two weeks ago. “It just doesn’t make any sense. If the rule was based on a certain speed, or G forces, or anything like that, it would make sense. But a men’s start in Igls is easier than a women’s start in Lake Placid, so there’s no logic. There are more G forces in Sigulda and speed (from the women’s start) than men’s start in Igls. It doesn’t really add up and I think it’s very limiting. I think there are a lot of very capable female athletes that could and should be sliding from the top, but they’ve been told for so long, ‘Oh, you can’t do this’.
“I went up in the first place because I wanted to go faster. That’s what the sport’s all about. It’s about going fast and pushing those limits. And so when you’re training down at a start for however long, how could you not want to push those boundaries and move up and challenge yourself?”
Several U.S. junior national team athletes entered the fray as they, too, are in Lillehammer with the new coaching staff of Robert Fegg (head coach) and Larry Dolan (assistant coach).
Zach DiGregorio of Medway, Mass. and Sean Hollander of Lake Placid were 13th and 14th, respectively.
Trailing Arndt by 0.05 of a second, Raluca Stramaturaru of Romania rallied past the Park City, Utah racer in the finale to take the victory. On a mild day in Lillehammer with temperatures around 40 degrees, Stramaturaru totaled 1:36.058 to Arndt’s 1:36.128.
“Training here in Norway is always a ton of fun, and ending the week with a fun little race is a great way to finish things off,” stated Arndt, the first heat leader. “I had two of my best runs today, and beat my personal best by about .8 of a second. I’m really happy to start the season off this way. The track was in really good shape all week. I was pulling personal best starts every few days which is always a good say to start the year.”
Italy’s Sandra Robatscher was third in 1:36.331, followed by Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., next in 1:36.656. Stramaturaru, Robatscher and Sweeney are all recent Olympians.
The USA Luge athlete is coming back gradually from crashing in the final Olympic run.
“I’m happy with how today went considering the point that I’m coming from,” stated Sweeney. “I had zero expectations for how things would go this week.
“This summer was really challenging. My body went through a lot of healing and I’ve only had about a month of rehab. Sliding this week was definitely a learning experience. I started out lower on the track than I ever have before. I worked my way up to ladies start and am learning to trust, but at the same time respect, my body’s limits. I’m still not pulling a full start or feel completely comfortable on the sled, so it was encouraging to see some speed today. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.”
Other Americans were Grace Weinberg, of Pittsfield, Vt., ninth; Raychel Germaine of Roswell, Ga., 11th after putting down the fifth fastest final heat; junior national team member Ashley Farquharson, of Park City, Utah, 12th and junior national teammate Chevonne Forgan of Chelmsford, Mass., 13th.
In a four sled field, the U.S. junior national team of Dana Kellogg of Chesterfield, Mass. and Duncan Segger of Lake Placid, did not finish the first run.