LAKE PLACID - The senior luge racing season ended Sunday with a dominating performance by the top American woman, an upset in doubles and an exciting finish in men's singles.
In addition to race honors, there was the backdrop of 2011-2012 team selection looming overhead as points accrued by the leaders from Saturday's Norton National championships and Sunday's seeding race will help determine the make-up of the fall squad.
After winning her fourth straight Norton National Championship just 24 hours earlier, Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, returned to her home track on Mount Van Hoevenberg and nailed the fastest two heats of the morning in changing weather conditions.
As the elements segued from rain to heavy snowfall, Hamlin remained consistent in winning both runs. Her times of 44.953 and 44.786 seconds totaled one minute, 29.739 seconds on a course that measures three-quarters of a mile in length.
"They were two good, consistent runs. They were my best of the week," Hamlin said. "So that was a relief. The conditions were different (from Saturday), but it still worked out all right. It got colder today, but there wasn't enough time for the ice to harden up."
Junior national team standout Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn. with family from Saranac Lake supporting her, capped a brilliant weekend as she, once again, placed second to the two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion. Sweeney clocked 1:30.542.
"I was a little nervous after the first run after I hit a wall in the chicane," said Sweeney, who stood third behind Summer Britcher at that stage. "But the second run was good and I pulled it out. After yesterday, I was just hoping to keep my spot. I was happy to be second. She (Erin) dominated."
Britcher, another rising junior, slid to the bronze medal in 1:30.642. She was the 2011 Junior World Cup overall champion in the Youth A division for racers up to the age of 17. Sweeney and Britcher attend National Sports Academy in Lake Placid.
Hamlin, who raced to a pair of World Cup bronze medals in the recently-completed season, and Sweeney have earned status as members of the fall national team.
Walden, a 2002 Olympian, finished third in Saturday's Norton Nationals, and fourth in the Sunday event. Britcher, who turns 17 later this month, was fourth and third, respectively, in these events. On a tiebreaker using the fastest single heat of the weekend, Britcher took third over Walden in the overall seeding list by .04 of a second.
Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake edged Bengt Walden at the wire for his second victory in as many days. Walden, a five-time Olympian from Lake Placid, sat in first place after one run trying to make amends for a disappointing fifth place in the national championship event a day earlier.
"I had a pretty good second run so I knew it was going to be close," said the winner. "It's always exciting to come from second place and see the time (differential) get smaller and smaller. It was a good race today. In the second run, I felt no pressure. I already won yesterday and I figured I might as well go for it. I knew it was a quick time. That was a good feeling."
Walden took a .16 of a second advantage into the finale, only to see the opportunity overturned by.04 of a second due to Mazdzer's final run effort down the mile-long track.
Mazdzer recorded times of 53.761 and 53.140 seconds for a combined 1:46.901. Walden's two heats accrued 1:46.943. Trent Matheson, of Bountiful, Utah, was third in 1:47.369.
Mazdzer's weekend sweep and Walden's second race improvement give the teammates status for this fall's national team. Walden placed second on the seeding list.
The words of Andrew Sherk spoke volumes about the doubles race.
"Oh man ... two-thousandths of a second. That was a good race."
Sherk, the back driver for Jacob Hyrns, was describing the exciting competition that saw gold and silver separated by that slim margin over two heats covering 1.5 miles.
The Junior World Cup overall champions, Hyrns and Sherk upended World Cup competitors Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall. Hyrns and Sherk inched ahead in the first run by .025 of a second.
Mortensen and Griffall, fifth in a December World Cup event, nearly returned the favor in the second leg as they won the heat by .023 of a second. Such is luge.
The winner's time was 1:30.064; the silver medal sled's time was 1:30.066. Shane Hook, of Grapevine, Texas, with Zac Clark, of Salt Lake City, Utah, picked up the bronze medal in 1:32.052.
The doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman were sidelined as the result of Niccum's upcoming back surgery on Monday, also at the D.I.S.C. facilities in Marina del Rey, Calif. The two-time Olympian's condition forced the duo to abandon the season after the World Championships in late January.
Terdiman, meanwhile, has been training in Lake Placid on a one-seater and was a forerunner for the weekend women and doubles competitions. They will race together next year after winning a World Cup bronze medal in December of 2010.
The doubles team selections will occur in the early spring amongst the coaches once they have had the chance to review the season's results and the success of Niccum's operation.