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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NFL star Jared Allen’s team beats Olympic champions at curling nationals

Jared Allen
Getty
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Retired NFL star Jared Allen was part of a curling team that beat 2018 Olympic champion John Shuster to open the U.S. Championships in Denver on Sunday night.

Allen, who retired from the NFL in 2016 and picked up curling in 2018, is on 2010 Olympian Jason Smith‘s team, which beat Shuster’s team 10-6 in the first game of round-robin play.

After all eight teams play each other, the top four advance to Friday’s playoffs. The winner of Saturday’s final is national champion and is expected to be the U.S. team for the world championship in Ottawa in April.

Allen, 40, said before nationals that he is eyeing the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“I thought curling was going to be a lot easier than it was,” Allen, whose team at the last nationals in 2021 went 0-9, told the newspaper. “But I’m one of those guys who, once I start something, I’m going to see it through. Our goal at nationals is to beat as many teams as we possibly can and see where we land.”

How big of an upset was Sunday’s result? Ken Pomeroy rated Smith’s team fifth in the eight-team field before the tournament, while he had Shuster’s team second behind Korey Dropkin.

Shuster’s team won the last three nationals that they entered, plus the last two Olympic Trials since the bulk of the team formed for the 2015 season. Shuster went 11-0 at his last nationals in 2020, then 11-2 at the 2022 Olympic Trials, where the younger Dropkin beat him twice but ultimately lost in the finals series.

Allen was first linked to serious curling in February 2018 via U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Lou Nanne on a Minnesota ESPN radio show. Nanne said Allen told him at a dinner.

“[Allen] says, ‘I’m giving myself four years to make the Olympic curling team,’” said Nanne, a 1968 U.S. Olympian.

Allen, along with retired quarterback Marc Bulger, first played on a team with 2010 Olympian John Benton and fellow veteran curler Hunter Clawson.

Allen’s new team includes Smith, who played on the 2010 Olympic team skipped by Shuster, Clawson and Dominik Maerki.

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U.S. Alpine skiers wear climate change-themed race suits at world championships

U.S. Alpine Skiing Team Race Suit
Images via Kappa
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Looking cool is just the tip of the iceberg for Mikaela Shiffrin, Travis Ganong and the rest of the U.S. ski team when they debut new race suits at the world championships.

Even more, they want everyone thinking about climate change.

The team’s predominantly blue-and-white suits depict an image of ice chunks floating in the ocean. It’s a concept based on a satellite photo of icebergs breaking due to high temperatures. The suit was designed in collaboration with Kappa, the team’s technical apparel sponsor, and the nonprofit organization Protect Our Winters (POW).

The Americans will wear the suits throughout the world championships in Courchevel and Meribel, France, which started Monday with a women’s Alpine combined race and end Feb. 19.

“Although a race suit is not solving climate change, it is a move to continue the conversation and show that U.S Ski & Snowboard and its athletes are committed to being a part of the future,” said Sophie Goldschmidt, the president and CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

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Global warming has become a cold, hard reality in ski racing, with mild temperatures and a lack of snow leading to the postponement of several World Cup events this winter.

“I’m just worried about a future where there’s no more snow. And without snow, there’s no more skiing,” said Ganong, who grew up skiing at Lake Tahoe in California. “So this is very near and dear to me.”

What alarms Ganong is seeing the stark year-to-year changes to some of the World Cup circuit’s most storied venues.

“I mean, it’s just kind of scary, looking at how on the limit (these events) are even to being possible anymore,” said Ganong, who’s been on the U.S. team since 2006. “Places like Kitzbuehel (Austria), there’s so much history and there’s so much money involved with that event that they do whatever they can to host the event.

“But that brings up a whole other question about sustainability as well: Is that what we should be doing? … What kind of message do we need show to the public, to the world, about how our sport is adapting to this new world we live in?”

The suits feature a POW patch on the neck and the organization’s snowflake logo on the leg.

“By coming together, we can educate and mobilize our snowsports community to push for the clean energy technologies and policies that will most swiftly reduce emissions and protect the places we live and the lifestyles we love,” according to a statement from executive director Mario Molina, whose organization includes athletes, business leaders and scientists who are trying to protect places from climate change.

Ganong said a group of ski racers are releasing a letter to the International Ski Federation (FIS), with the hope the governing body will take a stronger stance on sustainability and climate change.

“They should be at the forefront of trying to adapt to this new world, and try to make it better, too,” Ganong said.

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U.S. Alpine Skiing Team Race Suit