IGLS, Austria - Recent history repeated itself Sunday as 2010 Olympic champion Felix Loch, of Germany, used a record-setting first run en route to victory in the season-opening men's World Cup luge race outside Innsbruck, Austria.
Helped by clear and partly sunny conditions, track records fell in each heat. Loch led a podium that was identical to the final results nine months ago on the Whistler track during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Teammate David Moeller placed a close second, while Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, wound up third.
The team relay event is now an official World Cup discipline and is being eyed by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Against that backdrop, Germany overtook Canada for the gold medal, with Italy third. The U.S. entry was sixth in the 12-team field.
The 21 year old Loch, also a two-time world champion, overcame a recent hip injury and briefly set a new mark of 50.199 seconds down the 1,220 meter long, 14 curve Olympia course in the first heat. He beat the odds with a duplicate second run time of 50.199, totaling 1:40.398, and finished just ahead of Moeller.
"As a consequence of my injury I'm still wasting the one or other hundredth of a second at the start," said Loch. "One cannot force an overall World Cup victory, but I have enough time to make a go at it. However, it would be nice to win some more World Cup events."
After an opening leg of 50.259, the runner-up bettered Loch's course record in the final heat with a 50.185 and a combined 1:40.444.
Five-time Olympic medalist including two gold medals, Armin Zoeggeler of Italy grabbed the bronze medal as he did in Vancouver. Zoeggeler, seeking a 50th career World Cup win which would have tied him with retired Austrian Markus Prock, had the third fastest runs of each session and recorded 1:40.560.
The top American was four-time Olympian Bengt Walden, of Lake Placid, via Sweden, who finished 15th in 1:41.210.
"Bengt had some solid races runs, but he has more speed in him," said USA Luge Sport Program Director Mark Grimmette. "With two good runs, he'd be in the top 10. He bumped the start curve in the second run and then it's hard to get that speed back."
Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, drifted back to 32nd place in 2:05.887 after a second heat crash in curve five. The 2010 Olympian, adjusting to some equipment modifications, stayed with his sled through the final nine curves and the finish line. He was uninjured.
Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station, placed 22nd in Friday's Nations Cup qualifier; Trent Matheson took 33rd in the same competition. Neither made the cut for Sunday's World Cup race.
The team relay event, featuring one athlete each in men's and women's singles, along with a doubles sled from each nation, was the first of six on this year's World Cup calendar.
The competition begins with a women's singles sled. After crossing the finish line, the sledder sits us and touches a pad that opens the start gate for their teammate in men's singles. He repeats the process, crossing the finish and touching the pad that allows their doubles sled to enter the course. When the doubles cross the line and one member touches the pad, a total three-sled time is recorded for the team.
Canadians Alex Gough, Sam Edney and the doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith executed better than everyone but Germany. Tatyana Huefner, Saturday's World Cup women's winner, led her team to victory. Her teammates, singles luger Andi Langenhan followed by the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, stretched the advantage.
Germany clocked a total time of 2:09.519. Canada was next in 2:10.340, followed by Italy in 2:10.431.
The U.S. entry of Erin Hamlin, teaming with Walden and the doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman were sixth in 2:11.02.
Hamlin was a bronze medalist in Saturday's World Cup women's opener, while Niccum and Terdiman took fifth in the doubles 24 hours earlier.
After the races, the American contingent departed Igls for Ramstein, Germany and a USO visit Monday to the military families and schools at the Kaiserslautern Military Command.
Thereafter, it's on to Loch's home track in Winterberg, Germany for the season's second World Cup events Dec. 4-5.