Luge World Cup coming to Park City |

Luge World Cup coming to Park City

Sandy Caligiore, USA Luge

The free-for-all is coming to the Wasatch Range this month.

The fastest sleds in the world will race at the Utah Olympic Park Dec. 16-18 when the fourth Viessmann World Cup luge competition of the season is contested.

And it’s free for all as no entry fees will be collected.

Nations Cup qualifying is set for Dec. 16 at 9 a.m. The women’s Viessmann World Cup race is slated for Dec. 17 at 3:25 p.m., while the program concludes Dec. 18 with doubles at 11:30 a.m., followed by the men’s race at 3:30 p.m.

Training takes place Dec. 13-16 on the 1,316 meter long, 17 turn Olympic track that saw USA Luge win silver and bronze medals in doubles during the 2002 Winter Games.

"We will always have great memories of the track in Park City," said USA Luge CEO Ron Rossi. "With our two Olympic medals in Nagano in 1998, Park City is not only our western home, but it’s the scene of a monumental achievement in the history of our team. That was due, in part, to the wave of support we felt from American fans that day. We hope history will repeat itself and we can acquire some more World Cup medals before the holidays."

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Since 2002, USA Luge has scored two World Cup doubles wins, a World Cup singles bronze and a World Championship doubles bronze medal on the Park City course, which is one of the fastest in the world.

One of the members of that 2002 silver medal-winning sled, Mark Grimmette, now retired from competition, will return to the scene as USA Luge’s Sport Program Director. A five-time Olympian who also scored a bronze medal in 1998, Grimmette brings a competitive squad to these races, including defending world champion Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y.

Hamlin, who established herself as a consistent contender a year ago with three World Cup bronze medals, recorded another bronze medal at the season opener in Igls, Austria Nov. 27, and was backed by the fifth place effort of Ashley Walden, of Westborough, Mass. and Lake Placid, N.Y. Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine was 11th in the event.

With those efforts, Hamlin and Walden qualified for spots on the 2011 World Championship team.

The U.S. squad will need that kind of depth to contend with a German team that has been undefeated in World Cup racing, amazingly, since 1997. Vancouver Olympic champion Tatyana Huefner and bronze medal-winner Natalie Geisenberger are the face of the German women’s team. But Anke Wischnewski and junior Corinna Schwab are threats and would be stars with any other nation.

Bengt Walden, also of Lake Placid, led the U.S. men in Igls with a 15th place performance, while a second run spill dropped Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., to 32nd. Both were members of the Vancouver Olympic team as was Tony Benshoof, of White Bear Lake, Minn. Benshoof, fourth at the 2006 Winter Olympics and eighth in Vancouver, however, is on leave from the national team as he attends to his ailing mother. Bountiful’s Trent Matheson will return to the course where he learned to slide, while the fourth U.S. man will be Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y.

The doubles event will either become a wide-open competition due to the retirement of five Olympic sleds, or it will be dominated by the likes of Wolfgang and Andreas Linger. The Austrian brothers, with a wealth of experience, are the defending two-time Olympic gold medalists.

Christian Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash., with new partner Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., debuted in Igls with a Nations Cup victory, followed by a fifth place in the World Cup race. The latter result secured their spot at the worlds in Italy.

The second American doubles entry will feature another Utahn who learned his craft in Park City. Torino Winter Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, the doubles back driver for Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., will try to contend for a podium place and qualify for the world championships.

"I can’t wait to head back to Park City," exclaimed Griffall. "It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had a major event there and it’s always nice to get back on home soil for a race! I grew up on the track in Park City, sliding there since I was 11 years old and the luge program had just started in Utah. Being a part of the Wasatch Luge Club and having Jon Owen as my first coach always brings back a huge sense of pride for me when I’m able to represent them in front of a home crowd."

Prior to the Park City events, the World Cup tour makes stops in Winterberg, Germany Dec. 4-5 and Calgary, Alberta, Dec. 10-11.

A total of nine World Cup races, and the World Championships in Cesana, Italy, Jan. 29-30, comprise the 2010-2011 schedule.

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