Luge titles come to Utah Olympic Park | ParkRecord.com

Luge titles come to Utah Olympic Park

The return of winter weather and snow to Park City this week was a fitting welcome for the USA Luge athletes, who will compete at the Utah Olympic Park sliding track this weekend.

In addition to contesting the U.S. National Championships on Saturday and Sunday, there will be seeding races for the final spots on Team USA’s World Cup roster.

After practicing on the UOP ice this week USA Luge Spokesperson Sandy Caligiore said the athletes are enjoying the Park City atmosphere.

"They always love coming back [to Park City]," he said. "It’s like being on home ice. We’re lucky to have two tracks in the country [including Lake Placid, New York] we can call home ice. There’s a taste of winter in the air. That adds to the environment to have some snow and some colder weather."

The final seeding races will take place on Saturday evening and will determine which sliders travel to Europe with the national team.

"The seeding races, of which we had one in Lake Placid last week, will finalize the World Cup team that starts in the end of November," Caligiore said. "We have a few spots that still need to be finalized."

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The seeding races will also count as the first two of four total runs for the men’s and women’s singles national championship competition. The final two runs for both singles competitions, as well as the two heats for the doubles teams, will be held on Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. The national championships will be awarded shortly after the competition.

Though the national championships are important, Caligiore said they will have no impact on the World Cup roster.

"The nationals do not count toward team selection," he said. "That’s just a standalone race, an annual event."

Caligiore said arranging the weekend’s contests in a two-day format is good practice for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

"The Olympic race is done the same way," he said. "The Olympic races are four heats over two days for singles and two heats in one day for doubles. All the World Cup races are two heats, one day and it’s over. There’s an added element when you have to sleep on the lead overnight."

With racers like Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West, Erin Hamlin, Emily Sweeney and Julia Clukey returning to the U.S. squad, Caligiore said the team is expecting big results in the 2015-16 racing season.

"Last year was an outstanding season," he said. "We had 13 World Cup medals, tying our previous best in the 1996-97 season."

But, he added, the U.S. can’t rest on last season’s accomplishments.

"On paper, we’re a year more experienced, but everyone gets better," he said. "There used to be a time when the medals came from Germany, Italy, Austria and the U.S. Now Russia and Latvia are competitive. There are more teams in the mix and the bar has been raised. Everybody has to elevate their games."

The FIL World Cup begins Nov. 28 and 29 in Innsbruck/Igls, Austria. Then the Cup comes to Lake Placid Dec. 4-5 and hits Park City Dec. 11-12. Caligiore said the team is thrilled to have two World Cups on American soil this season.

"Our athletes get excited to race at home because it doesn’t happen that often," he said. "The Germans race at home four times a year. We hope we can put on a great show for the fans in the U.S. The races will be aired on NBC Sports Network, so that’s exciting for us."

Saturday’s races at the Utah Olympic Park will run from 5-6 p.m. Sunday’s title finals will begin at 11 a.m., with awards to follow. Visit http://www.usaluge.org for more information.