Americans slide to silver at Lake Placid World Cup

LAKE PLACID – The Americans took silver behind a tough German squad in the team relay competition Saturday in the World Cup luge event at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The American team consisted of singles lugers Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake and Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine and doubles lugers Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station and Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City. They finished with a combined time of 2 minutes, 35.001 seconds.

“We all had awesome runs, so I was really hoping that would be enough to move into first place,” Mazdzer said. “It’s the best the team’s done all year and to do it in front of the home crowd, it’s awesome.”

The German squad took first place in 2:34.894, just .107 seconds ahead of the Americans. The German team consisted of singles lugers Natalie Geisenberger and Ralf Palik and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.

The Italian team of Sandra Gasparini, Armin Zoggeler, Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber took third place.

Because the German team raced last, the Americans didn’t know until the final luger slid down the track if they were going to take gold or silver. The Americans slid third.

“It was tough today because we really couldn’t see the TV, so we really didn’t know how much we were gaining and losing on people, so that was nerve racking,” Mazdzer said. “We were in the lead until the last half of the track, the third run. It was so close right at the end to get it. So it would have been awesome to come away with the win. That’s always in the back of your mind, but we’ll take second.”

The team relay was the second race of the day. Earlier in the day, the Italians dominated the men’s single luge competition. Zoggeler took first in 1:44.655, followed by Dominik Fischnaller in 1:44.867 and David Mair.

“Coming here really favored the driving nations,” Mazdzer said. “The Norweigans have a track similar to this, at least in toughness. They’re pretty comfortable. The Italians are all really good sliders. Armin is the best in the world, hands down. It was fun. You could see the people who could really drive the sled and who were comfortable on really hard ice and difficult situations.”

Despite not getting a medal in the singles event, it was a good day for the Americans. Mazdzer and Taylor Smith finished fifth and seventh, personal bests for the sliders.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” Smith said. “It’s the best I’ve ever done by 10 spots and to do it in front of the home crowd is even better. It’s always fun to come up and see your time and know you did well, and the crowd’s into it. It’s really nice to know that you did your absolute best at your home track.”

Overall, the American sliders showed improvement on the track, giving them hope for the end of the season and leading up to the Sochi Winter Olympics next winter. The Americans will also be in Sochi the weekend of Feb. 23 and 24 for a World Cup and test event for the Olympics.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Smith said. “It definitely makes you feel like you could hang with the best of the best and to take this personal victory for myself over to Sochi is going to fun to see what I can do on a track that not a lot of people have done a whole lot of runs on.”

Clukey, who took also took silver in the women’s singles competition Friday, was pleased with the two days of sliding.

“I think we had a great weekend,” Clukey said. “Our younger athletes had some personal bests. We had all four women in the top 10 (Friday). You know, Chris was fifth, Taylor was seventh today. It was the second week of personal bests for them, and it’s going to be huge for us. Moving forward to Sochi, we’re going to keep the momentum rolling and keep attacking. Really, we’ve been there all season, progressively moving forward, and I think we’re taking some big leaps now, and I think we’ll continue to do so.”