LAKE PLACID - After junior luge athletes stole the headlines in Saturday's Norton USA Luge selection races, the plot continued to thicken in the Sunday finale when Emily Sweeney took advantage of an Erin Hamlin crash to win the second event and finish second overall in the ladies division.
"Anything can happen, especially in luge, as shown today," said Sweeney, who lives in Suffield, Conn. and whose family originally hails from Saranac Lake. "I came back after my crash yesterday and finished it strong. I'm happy with the weekend.
"We had a lot of juniors showing up on the podium. We have good competition. Now I'm ready to go someplace else. I'm looking forward to Park City in two weeks and get on different types of tracks."
From left, Kate Hansen, Emily Sweeney and Summer Britcher pose for a picture following the Norton USA Luge selection races this weekend in Lake Placid. Sweeney took first on Sunday and second overall, Hansen was the overall two-day point leader and Britcher was third in Sunday’s race and fourth overall.
(Photo — Gordy Sheer, USA?Luge)
Kate Hansen and Sweeney, both juniors, placed 1-2, respectively, ahead of Hamlin in the two-day qualification series, despite the advantage that Hamlin, 2009 World Champion, took after the first run both days. Hansen accumulated 185 points after taking first and second, Sweeney had 170 after finishing third and first and Hamlin picked up 135 with second- and sixth-place results.
Winners received 100 points, with 85 going to second, 70 for third place, 60 for fourth and 55 points for fifth position.
Hamlin, a Remsen native who won a pair of World Cup bronze medals last winter, had previously qualified for the new World Cup season. Despite the spill, she got back on her sled to secure a finish time. Post-race X-rays of her left arm were negative, and the 2006 and 2010 Olympian will now move on to Calgary to resume pre-season training.
USA Luge Fall World Cup Team
Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman
Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall
Ashley Walden, a 2002 Olympian from Westborough, Mass., will join Hamlin courtesy of two top 10 results last season. The two veterans will race World Cups beginning Nov. 25-27 in Igls, Austria.
Julia Clukey, fifth in the Park City, Utah World Cup last season, is sidelined as she recovers from surgery to address Arnold-Chiari Syndrome. The problem has caused the Vancouver Olympian to suffer severe headaches. Clukey was in Lake Placid for the start of on-ice training 17 days ago, but abandoned her sliding after one run due to recurring symptoms.
Hansen and Sweeney will start their seasons on the Junior World Cup circuit, with December races in Park City and Calgary, Alberta. Thereafter, they will join the World Cup action when it arrives in Calgary after the junior races.
Fall World Cup competitors Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall threw out a Saturday crash in the best two-of-three run format, then won Sunday's doubles event. They finished tied in points at 185 with Saturday winners and Junior National Team members Jacob Hyrns and Andrew Sherk.
Both sleds accrued first and second place points. But the veterans used the tiebreaker - the fastest individual heat over the entire weekend - to edge their younger teammates.
"We didn't re-invent anything (between races)," said Mortensen. "We got everything out of the way yesterday. Nothing worse can happen today. Let's have good runs and have a fun time."
"Yesterday we had troubles in the (turns) 11-12-13 area," said Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah. "We talked about it and came up with a game plan on how we were gonna attack those curves today. We had the mentality that we've been training well so far this season. But sometimes it gets too serious. We were trying to have fun and put together two good runs and go over what we talked about. It worked today. We had two solid runs."
Christian Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash., and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., also qualified for fall World Cup racing via a bronze medal last season. After Niccum's back surgery in the spring, they are just now starting to accumulate training runs together as Niccum remains patient in not rushing his rehabilitation. Sunday's runs were only their 11th and 12th of the fall training period.
Terdiman had been training in singles as he anticipated Niccum's recent arrival. Niccum is now headed home for several weeks of rehab before joining the squad in Altenberg, Germany in mid November.
Niccum and Terdiman, with Mortensen and Griffall, will be in the U.S. lineup in Igls. Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich., and Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., 2011 overall Junior World Cup champions, will race the same schedule as Sweeney and Hansen, and join their older teammates in Calgary.
A fourth doubles entry - Shane Hook, of Grapevine, Texas, and Zac Clark, of Salt Lake City - will travel to Whistler, B.C. and Calgary in December.
In men's singles, Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, easily swept the weekend pair and took the 200 maximum points.
"October was really warm here," commented Mazdzer prior to the award ceremony. "Our first day of great training was the day before the race when it got cold and I found out I was out of control. My sled wasn't sharp at all. Luckily, we had that one day. I did the right amount of work and spent a lot of hours on my sled. The setup worked out."
But with Mazdzer deciding to remain in Lake Placid to test equipment in November and December, along with the recent retirements of Tony Benshoof and Bengt Walden, the two traveling men's spots were completely wide open.
Isaac Underwood, of Skandia, Mich., placed fourth and second on the weekend and had 145 points, while Trent Matheson, of Bountiful, Utah, was second and eighth for 127. As thankful as both are now for this opportunity, they will express thanks again in four weeks since Underwood and Matheson will spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Igls, preparing for the opening World Cup meet.