Luge World Cup season preview

Erin Hamlin
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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
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

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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