World Cup gets back on track
It took three years for World Cup luge to return to Park City, but just a matter of seconds for the world’s best to leave their mark on the track.
In a homecoming of sorts for the Americans at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) on December 2-3, the team managed to turn in a number of strong performances, but failed to make it onto the podium. In the meantime, top European sliders continued to exert their dominance.
Highlights for the Americans included a fourth-place finish by the doubles luge tandem of Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin on Friday night, and a fifth-place World Championships qualifying run for female slider Erin Hamlin.
Although they failed to make podium, Grimmette and Martin breathed a sigh of relief on Friday night after rebounding from a shaky 12th place finish in Italy in the first World Cup of the season. Martin said the difference was two solid runs on the Park City ice.
"It was much better. We did both runs today," Martin said.
The duo finished with a time of 1 minute and 27.033 seconds, about a second off of winners Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber who slid into fist place with a time of 1:26.784.
Homegrown Preston Griffall of Salt Lake and his partner Dan Joye finished seventh. Griffall said the duo struggled in the final curves of the race.
"It was just a little rough and we lost a few seconds," Griffall said. "Anytime you have to make extra steers, it costs you time."
On Saturday, Hamlin seemed quite pleased to be the first non-German slider to place in the women’s singles event. Her time of 1:27.884 earned her a guaranteed trip to the World Championships in Igls, Austria in early February, which didn’t hurt either.
"It was two solid runs," Hamlin said. "I’m happy with that."
But make no mistake, the weekend belonged to the Europeans. In doubles luge Italy’s Oberstolz and Gruber opened the season with two straight World Cup victories, the German women managed to maintain their dominance in the sport clinching the 66th consecutive sweep of the World Cup podium and Italy’s two-time Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler recoded his 32nd career men’s singles luge victory.
Women’s single luge winner, Silke Kraushaar-Pielach, a multi-time Olympic medallist, seemed quite pleased with her ability to maneuver on the UOP track.
"I’m very surprised, because this is more of a gliding track," said Kraushaar-Pielach through an interpreter. "I’m usually better on technical tracks."
Kraushaar-Pielach finished with a time of 1:27.268, followed by Sylke Otto and Anke Wishnewski. Tatjana Hufner came in fourth.
For Zoeggeler, it was a bit of a return to past glory sliding on the track where he won his first gold medal in the 2002 Olympics and the 2005 World Championships.
"It’s one of his favorite tracks," explained an interpreter.
His focus now is on capturing his 33rd win, which would put him even with luge legend Georg Hackl and Austrian Markus Prock.
"It’s one of my goals this season," said Zoeggeler through an interpreter.
Zoeggeler said he played it safe in Saturday afternoon’s race after watching Rus
sian rival Albert Demtschenko crash into the wall in his second run, dropping him to 11th place. His plan worked, finishing with a time of 1:30.112.
Almost all of the racers seemd to have trouble in the second curve after the men’s start, where the track joins with the bobsled start. Many sliders, such as American Tony Benshoof, fell prey to the treacherous split, which slowed him significantly on his first run and kept him out of medal contention.
"The most difficult part of the track is there," Zoeggeler said.
The Luge World Cup will now move to Calgary next weekend, and the UOP track crew will begin preparing the ice for World Cup bobsled and skeleton competition beginning on Thursday and running through Saturday.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.