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Summer Britcher upsets Olympic luge favorites at World Cup

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American luger Summer Britcher beat the last two Olympic champions from powerhouse Germany to win a World Cup in Lillehammer, Norway, on Saturday.

“This was a different situation for me,” Britcher said, according to USA Luge. “Every time, other than this, that I’ve been on the podium, I didn’t expect it. There were either weather changes, or I changed equipment last minute and I was kind of surprised to find myself there. But after the week of training and after the final A seed training run, this was the first time that I had to go to sleep knowing that if I performed well, and if have two good runs, I have a good chance of winning.”

It’s the most impressive victory for a U.S. luger since Erin Hamlin‘s world title in 2009.

Britcher, a 23-year-old qualified for PyeongChang, became the first U.S. woman to win a non-sprint World Cup outside North America since Kate Hansen in 2014.

But Hansen, whose victory was the first by a U.S. woman at any World Cup since 1997, didn’t have to go through the top Germans.

Britcher edged 2014 Olympic champion Natalie Geisenberger by .033 on Saturday. Fellow Germans Julia Taubitz and 2010 Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner were third and fourth.

Full results are here.

Britcher’s previous three World Cup wins, all in the 2015-16 season, were all on North American tracks.

All three women on the U.S. Olympic luge team — Britcher, Sochi bronze medalist Hamlin and Emily Sweeney — have won at least one World Cup since the start of the 2016-17 season.

That breeds hope that the U.S. can claim its second Olympic singles luge medal in PyeongChang to follow up Hamlin’s breakthrough in 2014.

Germans won 12 straight full World Cup races on European tracks coming into Saturday.

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Germany looks set to sweep Olympic luge golds again

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There’s some sort of mystical power when it comes to Germany and luge.

Germany has more sliding tracks than any other nation, plus always seems to be ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology and any other innovation that can be used to get a sled down the ice faster than anyone else.

Nowhere has that dominance been on display than the Olympics.

Six nations own Olympic gold medals in luge.

Germany, East Germany and West Germany combined for 31 Olympic luge titles, while the rest of the world has 13. Italy has seven, Austria five and the Soviet Union won one.

“We’re always under pressure,” German doubles star Sascha Benecken said. “But the pressure we put on ourselves is much tougher.”

USA Luge made great strides in recent years, and comes into these Olympics bolstered by Erin Hamlin’s bronze medal at the Sochi Games four years ago.

The doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman could be in the medal mix as well, and male sliders Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer have had plenty of finishes that show they can compete with anyone.

Austria, Italy, Canada and Latvia should also contend for medals.

The wild card would be the lugers from Russia, some of whom have results that suggest they would be medal contenders — if permitted to compete.

Russia will not have a team at these Olympics because of the doping fallout from the Sochi Games, though some athletes from that nation will be allowed to be in PyeongChang under the Olympic flag.

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Here’s some of what to know going into luge in PyeongChang:

MEDAL FAVORITES
In men’s luge, Germany, where Felix Loch is going for a third straight win. In women’s luge, Germany, where Natalie Geisenberger will seek repeat gold. In doubles luge, Germany again. And in the team relay, let’s say Germany. Put it this way: If any other national anthem gets played to commemorate a gold medalist after a luge race in PyeongChang, it’s going to be called an upset.

BEST RIVALRY
There was a time not long ago, where the best rivalry in the sport probably was the every-race-weekend battle between Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner. From the same country, they were coached separately and had distinctly different styles. Their relationship seems to be nowhere near as frosty now, but the rivalry will be real again in South Korea.

RISING STARS
Summer Britcher is in her second Olympics. Emily Sweeney her first, but neither is new to the world stage. Both Americans could be in the medal hunt if they avoid a big mistake. If allowed to compete, Russia’s Roman Repilov might be the newcomer to watch on the men’s side. Only 21, he’s already won a World Cup overall title. Fairly or unfairly, because of Russia’s history, there’s no shortage of skepticism about his rapid rise.

NEW ERA
For the first time since 1984, the Olympic men’s luge medalists will not include either Germany’s Georg Hackl or Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler. Hackl won silver in 1988, gold in 1992, 1994 and 1998, then silver again in 2002. Zoeggeler won bronze in 1994, silver in 1998, gold in 2002 and 2006, bronze in 2010 and finished third in 2014 (though that will eventually be upgraded to silver because Albert Demchenko’s medal was stripped as part of the Russia doping scandal). Hackl and Zoeggeler now are coaches for their respective nations.

RULE CHANGES
The only difference in Olympic competition from World Cup racing is in men’s and women’s singles, where the event is four runs over two days instead of the customary two-heat, one-day format. Doubles is still a two-run, one-day race, and the team relay format also is unchanged from the World Cup norm.

DON’T MISS
Hamlin, a four-time Olympian, is retiring after these Olympics, following two decades of sliding.

OLYMPIAN EFFORT
Aileen Frisch used to compete for Germany and retired a couple years ago, but is now back with an unusual story. She’s likely to compete in these Olympics for South Korea. The host nation, which doesn’t have a storied luge history, offered her a passport with hopes of bolstering its sliding profile. Frisch trained for several weeks after sustaining a foot and leg injury earlier this season.

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MORE: Full U.S. Olympic luge team

More Russian medalists stripped, banned from Olympics

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Eleven more Sochi Olympians from Russia were disqualified by the IOC and banned from the Games for life, including two Sochi medalists, bringing the total to 43 athletes and 13 medals gone.

The athletes banned in Friday’s announcement relating to Russia’s doping violations:

– Lugers Albert Demtschenko and Tatyana Ivanova (Sochi silver medalists)
– Speed skaters Ivan Skobrev and Artem Kuznetcov
– Cross-country skiers Nikita Kryukov, Alexander Bessmertnykh and Natalia Matveeva
– Bobsledders Lyudmila Udobkina and Maxim Belugin
– Hockey players Tatyana Burina and Anna Shchukina

More from the IOC on the decisions is here.

In Sochi, Demtschenko became the oldest Winter Olympic medalist in an individual event when he took luge silver at age 42 in his record seventh Winter Games (Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai also competed in his seventh Winter Olympics in Sochi and hopes for his eighth in PyeongChang).

Italian Armin Zoeggeler, who took bronze in Sochi for his record sixth straight Olympic medal in one individual event, is in line to be upgraded.

As is the Sochi fourth-place finisher, Andi Langenhan of Germany (another German, Felix Loch, won gold).

Demtschenko and Ivanova made up half the Russian team for the first Olympic luge relay.

The Russians have been stripped of their silver medal from that event, with Latvia in line to go from bronze to silver and Canada potentially going from fourth to bronze. The Americans were sixth.

Demtschenko is retired.

Ivanova is Russia’s top female luger ranking third in the world last season and 10th this season. She won the World Cup race at the PyeongChang Olympic track in February.

The cross-country skier Kryukov was one of two individual Olympic champions for Russia at the 2010 Olympics, a title he will not lose for his Sochi DQ.

Kryukov and Bessmertnykh already had Sochi relay silver medals stripped due to teammates’ doping.

Kryukov, 32, last finished in the top 10 of World Cup standings in 2014.

The speed skater Skobrev won two individual Olympic medals in Vancouver but did not make a Sochi podium.

Skobrev is retired.

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MORE: List of Russia Olympic medals stripped; new Sochi medal standings