Erin Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer
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U.S. luge, riding World Cup success, eyes end to world champs drought

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The next three weeks could be crucial for the budding U.S. luge program.

After its best World Cup season in history last year, it goes into this weekend’s world championships in Igls, Austria, seeking to end an eight-year world medal drought. Races start Friday and are streamed live on fil-luge.org. NBCSN will air coverage Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The following week, after another World Cup stop, the world’s best lugers head to PyeongChang to train and compete on the 2018 Olympic track, most for the first time.

There’s reason for optimism for the Americans, still buoyed by Erin Hamlin earning the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medal (a bronze) in Sochi.

Five U.S. lugers combined to capture a program-record 17 individual World Cup medals last season. Only Germany earned more.

This season, the U.S. has taken World Cup medals in every discipline — men’s, women’s and, for the first time since 2010, doubles. Plus, medals in two of the three World Cup team relays, the event that made its Olympic debut in Sochi.

“USA Luge as a whole has built a ton of momentum since 2014,” said Tucker West, a 21-year-old who finished 22nd in Sochi and has two World Cup wins this season. “It all kind of started with Erin’s medal. Everyone’s kind of fed off that.”

Hamlin was the last American to make a world championships podium.

In 2009, she shocked the world by ending Germany’s streak of 99 straight major international race victories and taking gold in Lake Placid.

“A lot has happened since then,” Hamlin said Monday.

Like the rise of a men’s program. Two seasons ago, West became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup race since 1997. Last season, two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer finished third in the World Cup standings.

But Mazdzer hasn’t finished on the podium in nine races this season. He stripped down and plunged into frigid Lake Koenigssee after a 29th-place finish at the German track three weeks ago.

“There was some sort of curse in me, and jumping into the clean water of Lake Koenigssee was somehow going to take all that away,” Mazdzer said. “Wasn’t really thinking, just committed to get into the water. I think it worked. … Hopefully I don’t have to do that again.”

Mazdzer was 13th and fifth in his next two races in Sigulda, Latvia, heading into worlds. He finished fourth in both world championships races last season, the normal event and the shorter, single-run sprint event.

“I wouldn’t say this is necessarily sitting on the back of my mind, like I need redemption,” Mazdzer said. “I think those were pretty good results. For this year, it’s kind of building on the last two weeks for me.”

West may be a stronger medal threat. He is one of two men with multiple wins this season and said he’s had in the neighborhood of a thousand runs on the Igls track.

Track experience is crucial in sliding sports. Of the U.S.’ 25 World Cup medals in singles and doubles the last two seasons, 22 of them have come on North American tracks.

The U.S. missed the Igls World Cup podium each of the last five seasons. The last medal was Hamlin’s bronze in 2010, though Hamlin and Emily Sweeney were second and third after the first run last season before tumbling out of the top five.

Germans dominate Igls. They won all but one of the World Cup men’s, women’s and doubles races at the Austrian track the last three seasons.

Two-time Olympic champion Felix Loch has only made one podium in nine races this season, though, and ranks behind two Russians and an Austrian in the World Cup standings.

Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, winners of the last two Olympic women’s titles, rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the women’s standings, ahead of Hamlin, who hasn’t reached the top five of a European race this season.

German doubles teams have won the last 17 World Cup races dating to last season, split between Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt and Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken.

The best U.S. medal shot could be in the mixed team relay. The U.S. was sixth at the Olympics and fifth at each of the last three worlds, but rank second to the Germans combining three World Cup races this season.

The focus will shift to PyeongChang in February for an international training week and World Cup stop at the Olympic venue. The Winter Games being neither in North America nor Europe, where all of the world’s top sliders are from, makes for “a neutral site,” Mazdzer said.

“Most of the world doesn’t know what it’s going to be like,” said Mazdzer, the only American who has been on the PyeongChang track. “It’s lucky for us, where the home-field advantage [is minimized]. Obviously, the Koreans will have more runs, but it will kind of balance out the rest of the countries and, I think, make it a pretty even Olympics.”

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton broadcast schedule

Michael Phelps on Ledecky, Bolt, McGregor, Boomer’s first words

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps sat down for a quick Q&A last week while visiting to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign

(condensed and lightly edited)

OlympicTalk: What was your favorite moment of the summer’s world swimming championships?

Phelps: I loved watching Caeleb [Dressel] do some of the things that he did. It’ll be interesting to see what his event program looks like over the next couple of years to see if he adds or takes away any events. It’s good to start at world championships and show and see that you can do it at a world championships. Now I would say it’s really trying to perfect that schedule. We started doing a schedule like that in ’02 or ’03, and it took us four to six years to really kind of figure out what the best way to do it was. We perfected it by Beijing.

Also Katie [Ledecky]. I’ve talked to Katie a little bit over the last couple of weeks. It’s fun to see and hear her excitement level. Coming off a world championships after an Olympic year is always challenging. The world championships after an Olympics is usually kind of blah. It’s going to be fun to watch her transition the next couple of years and see what happens.

It’s fun watching some of these younger guys now step up, younger women step up and swim some of the times they’re swimming. I literally said to [my agent] this morning, “I probably could come back, but I just have zero desire.”

Like, I have a friend who is in the process of making a choice to continue or to stop [competing]. I was like, yeah, it’s fun, I’m finally back into working out again, like, pretty big, where I’ve lost probably 12 to 15 pounds since my highest point. It’s just getting back into that rhythm. It’s something for me that’s so easy and so simple to do. I was like, “I think it would be really easy to do it [return to competitive swimming]. I just don’t have any goals. I have nothing to come back and want to do.”

OlympicTalk: What sense did you get from Ledecky of what she thought about her world championships performance?

Phelps: It’s tough to always drop time, right? I went almost six years without doing a best time [from 2011 Worlds to his 4x100m free relay split at the 2016 Olympics]. It’s annoying. It’s the worst. I absolutely hated it. But if you do have meaningful goals, and they do keep getting you out of bed every single morning to go in and try and perfect them, then you’ll be fine.

From an outsider looking on, my opinion, it’s hard to watch when she’s reached this high point where she’s basically broken every single world record countless times — over and over and over and over and over again. There are times you’ll plateau a hair. It just depends on what you do to make that next step. For me, I’m hoping she jumps. I’m hoping she takes a huge hurdle.

I basically just reached out and was like, I’d love to help. There are very few people that understand what you’re going through. Let me know if I can do anything.

It’s going to be fun to watch her really, I would say, almost go back to the basics. She obviously knows what to do to be the best. She’s proved it time and time again. It’ll be fun to watch her grow.

OlympicTalk: So you reached out to her?

Phelps: I reached out to her. Just checking to make sure she’s OK. There’s probably three or four people on the national team that I’ll talk to.

OlympicTalk: I’m wondering who that swimmer is who is thinking whether to come back.

Phelps: You’ll see soon enough.

OlympicTalk: American?

Phelps: Yeah.

OlympicTalk: Do you consider Dressel’s seven golds at worlds, with two in the new mixed-gender relays, the same as your feat in 2007?

Phelps: Obviously, seven gold medals is seven gold medals, right? For me, [2007 World Championships] was the first time I could have won eight [gold medals], but we DQed in morning [medley] relay.

You can’t take anything away from winning seven gold medals, right? There are very few people who have had that opportunity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relay or an individual event. A relay event is kind of more challenging because we all have to work together.

I’m not a huge fan of the mixed relays, but I’m not in the sport anymore. But I think it is kind of cool that it’s basically a chess match, right? Try to figure out the best order [of male and female swimmers].

It’s going to be really challenging for anybody to put a team together that can beat the U.S. Our depth is just ridiculous.

OlympicTalk: Chase Kalisz said before worlds that you said some things to him after his Olympic silver medal that he won’t forget. What can you share about that?

Phelps: I just said if he wants to win a gold medal, make sure he always remembers what a silver feels like. There’s going to be countless days where he’s probably not going to want to go to work out. Or he’s probably not going to want to make that extra little bit of commitment to make sure he has a better chance to win that gold medal next time.

And you have every four years to have that chance. I just want to make sure the kid’s ready. I was always somebody who worked better with past experiences. If I had a defeat, that’s what made me get out of bed in the morning, to make sure I did not have that feeling of getting second. I hated getting second.

And I know how bad he wants to win [an Olympic] gold medal. He knows what he’s doing. He’s swimming well. He’s training well. He had a great year [sweeping the 200m and 400m individual medleys at worlds].

OlympicTalk: Did you watch Usain Bolt’s last races, and did it make you think of anything, the way it ended for him?

Phelps: I’m sure that’s probably not how he wanted it to end, somebody who has had great success for three Olympics, right?

Who knows, maybe he does come back and do something again? For me, that was the biggest thing of why I wanted to come back. I had that 400m IM and 200m butterfly in 2012 that just left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want that for the rest of my life.

OlympicTalk: Have you heard anything from Conor McGregor?

Phelps: No. I don’t think I will. I don’t think he’ll reach out for a race.

OlympicTalk: Has Boomer spoken his first words?

Phelps: He wakes up every morning and screams “Da-Da!”

OlympicTalk: So does that count?

Phelps: I’m counting it. He said “Da-Da” before “Mom,” so yeah. I mean, that’s all he says. I’m the morning guy. I take the morning shift. So every morning he’s yelling dad at the top of his lungs.

OlympicTalk: You’ve spoken about your campaign with Colgate before. What’s new this time around?

Phelps: We’re becoming a family four, five if you add [eight-time Olympic medalist] Allison [Schmitt], and if you think, the average family per day can waste up to 400 gallons. We can waste so much water. It’s not just brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You think about everything else that goes into that. We have a big yard, so water in the yard. Always trying to make sure we’re saving every single drop. It’s something we can all work on together.

Since we first launched the campaign, I think I’ve found more and more that people are coming up and being like, every time I brush my teeth now I think of you and turn off the water. People are doing it, and we want to make another push to get people on board.

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VIDEO: Phelps says he could come back if he wanted to

Lolo Jones the latest bobsledder to suffer concussion effects

Lolo Jones
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Lolo Jones said she suffered concussion symptoms after a Wednesday bobsled accident and that it’s “the weirdest injury” of her two-sport career.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past week about concussions and treatments,” was posted on her Instagram on Sunday. “This was the weirdest injury I’ve had in my life. Some days I would wake up feeling great and then one thing would have me dismantled in minutes. I’m grateful to sports med, my coaches and my teammates all who shut me down to protect my health.

Jones, one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, joked that she used her free time off social media the last few days “to call up all of my exes because clearly I wasn’t thinking right.”

Jones was one of six push athletes named to the U.S. national team earlier this month. It’s expected that three of those six will make the Olympic team this winter.

The World Cup season starts the second weekend of November in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Concussions are not uncommon for bobsledders. Even with helmets, their high-speed crashes are high-risk.

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic medalist, suffered a concussion in a race crash on Jan. 26, 2015. The after-effects lasted into the following season, causing her to miss four races.

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MORE: U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts