U.S. luge off to historic start this World Cup season

Luge
AP
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The leader of the luge World Cup standings wears a special bib over his or her sliding suit on race day, a perk that American racer Summer Britcher figured would come her way at some point in the next few years.

Instead, it’ll happen this weekend.

The dominant team on the World Cup luge circuit so far this season doesn’t hail from Germany, Italy or Austria. It’s been the Americans, who have turned some early home-ice advantage into a medal haul that suggests they’re closing the gap on the sport’s traditional powerhouses as preparations start to ramp up for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

“It is a little surreal,” said men’s slider Chris Mazdzer, who never had a World Cup singles win in his career before this season and has prevailed in the last two races at Lake Placid, New York and Park City, Utah.

It’s more than a little surreal.

The Americans have claimed gold medals in five of eight singles events on the circuit already this season — matching their number of World Cup singles wins from the last two decades combined. Add a relay gold to this season’s total and that’s six victories for USA Luge, more than any other nation.

Racing at home in Lake Placid and Park City clearly helped, but home-ice events in the past didn’t lead to anything even close to this. Two U.S. men and two U.S. women are ahead of any German slider in the World Cup points standings; until now, that would have classified as possibly the most unfathomable luge scenario.

“Now that we’re where we are, I feel like we’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in a great spot to keep building,” said 2009 World champion and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, who ceded the World Cup leader’s bib to Britcher after last weekend. “Clearly, what we’ve been bringing to the table is what we need to be doing. And right now, our team is in a really good place to capitalize on that.”

Mazdzer has two men’s wins on tour this season and currently sits No. 2 in the men’s rankings, two spots ahead of fellow American Tucker West — a former World Cup race winner. Britcher has two women’s wins this season, Hamlin has another, and they teamed with Emily Sweeney for a gold-silver-bronze sweep this month in Lake Placid, a feat they nearly repeated in Park City last weekend.

So when this weekend’s World Cup in Calgary, Alberta, starts on Friday, the Americans will be the ones to catch.

“I’m pretty surprised, but I think going into this season we all knew we had the potential to get on the podium,” said Britcher, the World Cup leader for the first time. “But I definitely am surprised to have it happen two weeks in a row and pretty excited going forward.”

The challenge becomes heading to foreign soil and staying in the medal mix.

After returning home from Calgary for the holiday break, the rest of the World Cup schedule features five European stops — three in Germany, one in Russia and another in Latvia.

“It’s really exciting to be in this position right now,” Britcher said. “I didn’t expect this to happen for several, several more years. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein
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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

Mo Farah
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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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