In the aftermath of a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat Viessmann Luge World Cup stop in Park City, UT on Saturday, eight American lugers were named to the “Sochi Express” train for Team USA.
While veteran Olympians Chris Mazdzer and Erin Hamlin had already punched their tickets to the Olympics at previous world cup contests, over a dozen U.S. lugers were in the running for the final eight spots.
Befitting the twists and turns of a luge track, here’s how the drama played out.
This fifth world cup event of the season marked the point of no return for lugers the world over. Per International Luge Federation rules, all Sochi Olympics participants must be decided on by criteria set by their luge federations, soon after this pivotal event.
This Park City track offered no real advantage to any American racer, since each has practically committed the course to “mind and muscle memory” through extensive practice and competition.
On the women’s side, three U.S. lugers were contending for the maximum of three female slots, as limited by FIL rules. On Friday, Vancouver Olympian Julia Clukey, Kate Hansen, and the rising Summer Britcher were all focused on joining Hamlin.
During this two-run event, this race pitted these close teammates against each other. And while each rested on their earlier world cup race results, their future hinged on this event.
Hansen locked her spot by nailing fourth, meeting a top-five eligibility criterion. “I am pretty proud of myself. It’s been a long two months and I’m grateful to come out in one piece,” said Hansen who is still recovering from a broken foot.
Britcher sledded to ninth place matching a previous ninth to earn the nod in meeting another criterion of placing twice in the top ten.
Sentimental favorite Clukey, who has overcome injury and illness, needed a top five finish to punch her ticket. As is often the case with luge, a matter of hundredths of a second can make or break Olympic hopes.
The determined Clukey, who has struggled a bit this season, went all out during her two runs. But, she missed the qualification standard by a mere .01 seconds, settling for sixth.
Three doubles teams had their Olympic dreams on the line going into this crucial event. Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall sealed the deal by speeding to their second top ten finish this season, in the ninth spot.
It’s an amazing feeling,” said Griffall. “When Matt and I decided to slide together almost eight years ago this was the goal we had in mind. We’ve really worked hard for this over the last four years. And I’m super happy for Matt and myself.”
However, since no other doubles pairs met the qualifying standards, a race-off challenge was conducted to determine the second berth.
In this special two-run “do or die” battle yesterday, two-time Olympian Christian Niccum and newcomer Jayson Terdiman bested Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk by .23 seconds.
“I felt confident about our runs today. They were consistent times in the race-off. We haven’t been consistent at all this year. So it’s a great step going into the second half,” said Terdiman.
Through Friday’s world cup competition, eight spots were locked, leaving two men’s spots still to be decided. Since no other male outright qualified, the 18-year-old Tucker West as well as Aidan Kelly were chosen due to strong finishes on this tour.
All ten were honored at a USA luge celebration this evening, and now look forward to basking in this well-deserved limelight during the holiday break. Although their nominations require official approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee, they are all but assured of earning a spot on Team USA's 250-athlete contingent.
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