USA Luge concluded the World Cup season Sunday evening in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, a resort not far from Sochi, with a fifth place result in the new team relay. The effort was enough to hold off Canada and allow the Americans to finish in third place on the season in this discipline.
The event will make its Olympic debut in Krasnaya Polyana next year.
On a warm and rainy evening near the Russian Riviera, Erin Hamlin of Remsen and Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, both in singles, were joined by the rookie World Cup doubles team of Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk. They collaborated to finish 1.4 seconds behind Germany. The winners completed a sweep of all six World Cup team relays this season, but needed some final heat heroics by Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
Teammates Tatyana Huefner and Andi Langenhan, individual race winners earlier, handed a 0.32 of a second deficit to Wendl and Arlt.
With Russia in the leader's box and ready to celebrate with throngs of supporters nearby, the World Cup and world champions summoned half a second in that one heat to turn defeat into a victory of more than 0.15 of a second.
Germany, finishing the season with a perfect 600 World Cup points, clocked 2 minutes, 51.553 seconds, with Russia collecting the silver medal in 2:51.709. Canada grabbed the bronze in 2:51.954 in one of the closest team relays of the World Cup campaign. The U.S. recorded 2:52.963.
Italy took second overall with 381 points, followed by the U.S. with 351.
On the day when defending Olympic champion Felix Loch, of Germany, clinched the World Cup overall title, Mazdzer paced the American trio in men's singles.
Two weeks after a career-best fifth place World Cup effort in Lake Placid, the 2010 Olympian was 19th after one leg, before uncorking the eighth fastest final heat to finish 12th.
"It was really weird weather today," Mazdzer said. "It was the warmest we've seen the track in a long time. It slowed down, especially in the first run. I scrubbed a little time at the bottom. I made two small mistakes that cost me a few hundredths, but those hundredths would have put me in eighth place. It was so tight. I was only 0.3 of a second from the leaders and was 12th. That's unheard of."
That was evidenced by the difference of 0.004 between first and second places, and merely 0.01 from gold to bronze.
"It is a matter of perfection on this track," Mazdzer said. "Your start has to be up to speed. I changed things up with my start this week and had my two most competitive starts. You have to be absolutely perfect on this track, and I have a long way to go before I think I'm absolutely perfect. The next time we train here I will work on those little things."
That will occur at the international training week in the fall prior to the start of the 2013-2014 World Cup season.
Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, a member of the Army National Guard, was 17th in 1:47.757 as he concluded his first full year on the World Cup circuit. Joe Mortensen, a member of the Army National Guard's World Class Athlete Program from Huntington Station was 32nd in 1:49.242.
Loch, meanwhile, needed just a ninth place finish to close out his teammates for the World Cup crystal on the last day of the international season. He skipped the Lake Placid event after crashing in training and suffering a hand injury. The 2013 World Champion stood in third place midway through the men's competition, but struggled in the final heat, and drifted back to sixth.
Loch's tour-leading 650 points bested teammate Andi Langenhan's 613. Langenhan, who won Sunday for the second time this season, came from fourth place to overtake the field. He posted 1:47.335 to edge Russian veteran Albert Demschenko. The 41 year old winner of the 2006 Olympic silver medal was only 0.004 behind in 1:47.339. David Moeller, another German, hurtled from seventh place to the bronze medal in 1:47.353.
He concluded the winter third overall with 607 World Cup points and a pair of tour victories.
Mazdzer was the top-ranked U.S. luger in 13th place with 261 World Cup points. Morris had 190 for 22nd place. Mortensen was 36th with 66 points in just four events. Seventeen year old Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn. had 10 points in two races and was ranked 51st. Doubles slider Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. had eight points in one race for 52nd place, while Isaac Underwood, of Skandia, Mich. and Aidan Kelly of West Islip tied for 70th with one point each in one competition.
West and Kelly competed this winter in the Junior World Cup, while Underwood spent much of his time training in Lake Placid.