Luge World Cup season preview

Erin Hamlin
1 Comment

The luge season leading into Sochi will see Americans look to become Olympic medal contenders, Germans try to retain their dominance, an Italian legend prepare for history and plenty of discussion about a new Olympic event.

The first of nine World Cup stops through January starts at the 1994 Olympic track in Lillehammer, Norway, on Saturday.

Here’s the full World Cup schedule:

Lillehammer, Norway — Nov. 16-17 (no team relay)
Igls, Austria — Nov. 23-24
Winterberg, Germany — Nov. 30-Dec. 1
Whistler, British Columbia — Dec. 6-7
Park City, Utah — Dec. 13-14
Konigssee, Germany — Jan. 4-5
Oberhof, Germany — Jan. 11-12 (no team relay)
Altenberg, Germany — Jan. 18-19
Sigulda, Latvia — Jan. 25-26 (no team relay)

The International Luge Federation (FIL) website is expected to have live timing of World Cup events.

Here are five storylines going into the season:

1. Who will make the U.S. Olympic team?

A nation earns Olympic spots based on World Cup points. The U.S. is expected to qualify the maximum number of sleds (three men, three women, two doubles) into the Olympics.

The final World Cup event of Olympic qualification is the Park City stop Dec. 13-14. USA Luge said it will name its Olympic team following the Park City races.

The team is expected to be made up of the top U.S. sliders in the World Cup standings.

2010 Olympian Chris MazdzerTaylor Morris and Joe Mortensen were the top U.S. men last season and made the World Cup roster this fall. Tucker West also qualified for fall World Cups.

Two-time Olympian Erin Hamlin and 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey were the top U.S. women last season and are joined on the World Cup team by Kate Hansen, who tied for third among Americans in the World Cup standings last year with Emily SweeneySummer Britcher, not Sweeney, is the fourth woman on the World Cup roster.

Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall and Jake Herns and Andrew Sherk were the top doubles teams last season and are on the World Cup team, along with Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman.

Niccum made the 2010 Olympic team in doubles with Dan Joye and competed in singles at the 2006 Olympics. Griffall made the 2006 Olympic team with Joye.

The U.S. has won four Olympic medals in luge, all in doubles. Its highest finishers at the World Championships in Whistler in February were Mazdzer and Hamlin, who were sixth. Hamlin was the top American at the Sochi World Cup event in March, taking seventh.

Watch out for Clukey, who missed the 2011-12 season after skull surgery, came back to dethrone Hamlin as the U.S. champion and finished a career-best sixth in the World Cup standings last year.

2. Will Germany be challenged?

Not often. Germany won five of a potential eight medals at the 2010 Olympics. It nearly went nine for nine at the World Championships in February, sweeping the men’s event, going one-two in the women’s and doubles and winning the relay.

In last season’s World Cup, Germany won 29 of 33 races, and German sleds finished as high as they possibly could 75 percent of the time.

In men’s, Germany has the reigning Olympic, World and World Cup champion in Felix Loch.

In women’s, Germany has the reigning Olympic champion in Tatjana Hufner and the reigning World and World Cup champion in Natalie Geisenberger.

Germany did not win 2010 Olympic gold in doubles, but Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt won seven of nine World Cup races last season and the World Championship.

With good World Cup form, Germany could very well be in position to sweep the Olympic luge golds for the first time since 1998.

3. Safety

The effects of the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili after a training crash on the day of the 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremony are still being felt.

Russia’s best men’s luger, Albert Demtschenko, said that training runs at the 2014 Olympic track in August produced speeds more than 10 miles per hour slower than Kumaritashvili’s final run in Whistler in 2010.

U.S. lugers and bobsledders have pointed to uphill sections that cause slow downs at the Sanki Sliding Center track.

Lugers from around the world took their final pre-Olympics training runs on the track last week at FIL’s international training week. The track has been called “not difficult” and “very forgiving” by U.S. lugers and that it creates a more even playing field.

“All the really tiny details and little annoying things about our sport are what are going to come into play huge,” Hamlin said this week. “The really nit-picky, very specific lines that we’ll have to hit for driving. … It’s easy to get down, but it’s hard to get down fast.”

The International Luge Federation mandated that any luger ranked below No. 32 for men, No. 24 for women or No. 20 for doubles had to be at Sanki Sliding Center last week to be eligible to compete in the Olympics. They also must have completed at least 10 runs on the track before the end of 2013.

Kumaritashvili was 44th in the 2009-10 World Cup standings and took 20 total runs on the Whistler track during the fall 2009 international training week.

The World Cup tour will not stop in Sochi, but it will visit the Whistler track altered after Kumaritashvili’s death in the first week of December.

source: AP

4. Armin Zoeggeler’s pursuit of history

They call him “The Cannibal.” The Carabiniere could become the first athlete to win six Olympic medals in an individual event.

Zoeggeler, who turns 40 on Jan. 4, has said that’s his goal. He’s so focused on it that he skipped the World Championships in February to rest and recover in anticipation of this season, at least his 20th on the World Cup tour.

Zoeggeler’s Olympic career is shaped like Freytag’s Pyramid. He won bronze in 1994, silver in 1998, then gold in 2002 and 2006 (his home Games in Torino) and back down to bronze in 2010.

Can he hold on for one last Olympic podium?

The World Cup season may not be the best indicator, as Zoeggeler will clearly be gearing up for a one-off peak performance in February. But he should be challenging for podiums in all of his races.

He’s been fourth in the overall standings the last two World Cup seasons and was fourth at the World Cup stop at the Olympic track last February. He took bronze at the 2012 World Championships and won the 2011 title.

The Olympic medals figure to come down to five men — Zoeggeler, three Germans and the Russian Demtschenko.

If Zoeggeler strikes out in singles, he could get another shot at a medal in a new Olympic event …

5. The team relay

The Olympic luge competition will conclude with a fourth event in 2014, the team relay one day after the doubles at Sanki Sliding Center.

The relay may be a new Olympic event, but it has been contested on the World Cup circuit and at recent World Championships. All of the elite sliders are familiar with it.

The Olympic relay will include one woman, one man and one doubles team from each nation sliding back-to-back-to-back runs. The woman will start, just like an individual race, but when she gets to the finish there will be a touch pad hanging above the track.

She must rise up from her moving sled and touch the pad. That will signal a gate back at the start of the track to open up for the male slider to start his run. The male slider takes his run and hits the finish pad to open the gate for the doubles team, which will take its run and hit the pad to stop the clock for a nation’s total time.

In a sport measured to the thousandth of a second, it will be key for all sliders (save maybe the super-favorite Germans) to not waste time rising from sleds and raising their arms to hit the pad. Easier said than done.

U.S. lugers said sliders have whiffed while trying to time pad touches, which would obviously be devastating to medal hopes (and likely become viral video) come Sochi.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The relay will likely be the U.S.’ best hope for its first Olympic luge medal since 2002.

Germany will, of course, be the favorite. It won all six World Cup relays last season and the World Championship. The rest of the medals were a mixed bag last season.

The U.S., Russia, Canada, Austria and Italy made World Cup podiums. The U.S. placed fifth at the World Championships but missed a medal by .012 of a second.

“It kind of brings a new twist to the sport,” Hamlin said. “I think it makes it a little bit more appealing and adds some excitement. There’s a lot of room for error.”

Here’s video of the relay at last season’s World Cup stop in Lake Placid, N.Y., with commentary from three-time U.S. Olympian Duncan Kennedy.

The relay is scheduled for six of nine World Cups this season but not the opener in Lillehammer this weekend.

Lights out for USA Luge at Olympic sliding center

Follow @nzaccardi

Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more


At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Chock, Bates, and a long road to gold | Results

As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Shoma Uno repeats as world figure skating champion; Ilia Malinin tries 6 quads for bronze


Japan’s Shoma Uno repeated as world figure skating champion, performing the total package of jumps and artistry immediately after 18-year-old American Ilia Malinin attempted a record-tying six quadruple jumps in his free skate to earn the bronze medal.

Uno, 25 and the leader after Thursday’s short program, prevailed with five quad attempts (one under-rotated) in Saturday’s free skate.

He finished, fell backward and lay on home ice in Saitama, soaking in a standing ovation amid a sea of Japanese flags. Japan won three of the four gold medals this week, and Uno capped it off with guts coming off a reported ankle injury.

He is the face of Japanese men’s skating after two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu retired in July and Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama missed most of this season with leg and ankle injuries.

“There were many shaky jumps today, but I’m happy I was able to get a good result despite not being in a good condition these past two weeks,” Uno said, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “I know I caused a lot of concerns to everyone around me, but I was able to pay them back and show my gratitude with my performance today.”

Silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan became the first South Korean man to win a world championships medal. Cha, a 21-year-old who was fifth at the Olympics, had to change out broken skate boots before traveling to Japan, one year after withdrawing from worlds after a 17th-place short program, citing a broken skate boot.


Malinin, ninth in his senior worlds debut last year, planned the most difficult program of jumps in figure skating history — six quads, including a quad Axel. Malinin is the only person to land a quad Axel in competition and did so again Saturday. He still finished 12.7 points behind Uno and 7.59 behind Cha.

Malinin had the top technical score (jumps, spins, step sequences) in both programs, despite an under-rotation and two other negatively graded jumps among his seven jumping passes in the free skate.

His nemesis was the artistic score, placing 10th and 11th in that category in the two programs (18.44 points behind Uno). Unsurprising for the only teen in the top 13, who is still working on that facet of his skating, much like a young Nathan Chen several years ago.

“After doing a lot of these jumps — hard, difficult jumps — it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” said Malinin, who entered worlds ranked second in the field by best score this season behind Uno.

Chen, who is unlikely to compete again after winning last year’s Olympics, remains the lone skater to land six fully rotated quads in one program (though not all clean). Malinin became the youngest U.S. male singles skater to win a world medal since Scott Allen in 1965. He was proud of his performance, upping the ante after previously trying five quads in free skates this season, but afterward weighed whether the risk was worth it.

“Sometimes going for the risk, you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and try not to take as much risk and go for a lot cleaner skate,” he said. “I think that’ll be beneficial to do next season is to lower the standards a bit.”

Malinin was followed by Frenchman Kévin Aymoz, who before the pandemic was the world’s third-ranked skater behind Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu, then placed ninth, 11th and 12th at the last three global championships.

Jason Brown, a two-time U.S. Olympian, was fifth in his first international competition since last year’s Olympics. He was the lone man in the top 15 to not attempt a quad, a testament to his incredible artistic skills for which he received the most points between the two programs.

“I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that I even would be competing this year, so I’m really touched to be here,” the 28-year-old said, according to the ISU. “I still want to keep going [competing] a little longer, but we’ll see. I won’t do promises.”

Earlier Saturday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates became the oldest couple to win an ice dance world title and the second set of Americans to do so. More on that here.

World championships highlights air Saturday from 8-10 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!