Junior lugers win medal
Racing with modest expectations, the USA Luge relay team won the silver medal Sunday, Feb. 7, on the final day of the Junior World Championships in Winterberg, Germany.
The foursome of Gracie Weinberg and Jonny Gustafson in singles, with the doubles team of Jake Farquharson and Christian Colaiezzi, took advantage of an early start and good track conditions to finish right behind the gold medalists from Germany.
"Getting the silver medal with my team at junior worlds has been one of the highlights of my luge career," said Weinberg, of Middlebury, Vermont. "I hope this is the beginning of a medal streak that will carry on into next season."
With no thoughts of the podium, the group performed in a more relaxed manner than some of the medal favorites.
"With every athlete on the team, with the exception of Riley (Stohr), going to Winterberg for the first time, we hoped this to be a learning experience and an opportunity to gain sliding experience on a new track for future races," said Fred Zimny, USA Luge Junior National Team Coach.
But with just five of the nine teams completing all their runs, suddenly USA Luge entered the medal picture.
"It was a surprise to see first Austria and then Russia have small bobbles during their runs," continued Zimny. "That cost them just enough time to fall behind our overall time."
The team relay was conducted exactly as it is in the World Cup, World Championships and Winter Olympics. That is, with reaction starts for the men and doubles sled, and a pad above and beyond the normal finish line that must be touched to open the gate for the next sled.
Time runs continually from the first sled to the third, with the clock finally stopping when the doubles team touches the pad. Junior sliders don’t get much experience in the format at this age.
"Going through the last few curves I was thinking, ‘Ok, don’t forget about the pad,’" said Gustafson, of Massena, New York, who posted the second-fastest reaction time among the men, following Weinberg who had the second quickest woman’s time at the touch pad.
"We were hoping to capitalize on the early start and finish a strong fourth behind Germany, Russia and Austria, who dominated all the singles disciplines," added Zimny. "All three U.S. sleds put down solid, respectable runs for their experience on the track, but we knew the strongest nations were yet to come."
Despite their three good runs, the Americans, the third team down the track in the field of nine, now had to stand helplessly in the leader’s box as the rest of the field tried to surpass their total time. Five teams later, the U.S. youngsters were still atop the standings, having posted a total team time of 2 minutes, 25.658 seconds.
In the end, only Germany’s 2:25.042 bested the Americans.
After not completing both runs in the doubles race when they were headed to a top-10 finish, anchoring the silver medal team effort provided great comfort for Farquharson and Colaiezzi.
Aside from placing as high as possible, the team relay brings into play the dynamic of accountability to one’s teammates.
"Even though Winterberg was by far the toughest track we slid on, we managed to put a decent run together for the relay and tried really hard to make our teammates proud," said Farquharson, of Park City, the doubles front driver.
The bronze medal went to Austria, two-tenths of a second behind the U.S.
"I’m very proud of Jonny, Gracie, Jake and Christian for their performance during their first visit to Winterberg. It was a great way to end the international racing season before the Youth Olympic Games begin," concluded Zimny.
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