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

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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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Eliud Kipchoge sets next marathon

Eliud Kipchoge
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Eliud Kipchoge will race the London Marathon on April 26 before he is expected to defend his Olympic title in Japan on Aug. 9, which would mark the shortest break between marathons of his career.

Kipchoge, who in his last 26.2-mile effort became the first person to break two hours at the distance, won all four of his London Marathon starts, including breaking the course record in 2016 and 2019.

His time this past April 28 — 2:02:37 — is the third-fastest time in history. Kipchoge has the world record of 2:01:39 set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. His sub-two-hour marathon in Vienna on Oct. 12 was not in a record-eligible race.

Kipchoge’s previous shortest break between marathons came in 2016, when he also ran London and the Olympics. The Olympics will be two weeks earlier in 2020 than in 2016.

Kipchoge, 35, has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

He has yet to race the two most prestigious marathons in the U.S. — Boston and New York City — but has said they are on his bucket list.

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Canadians become first female doubles luge team in World Cup

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WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Caitlin Nash and Natalie Corless made luge history Saturday, becoming the first female team to compete in a World Cup doubles race.

The 16-year-olds from Whistler combined to finish 22nd in a field of 23 sleds, though that seemed largely irrelevant. There have been four-woman teams in what is typically called four-man bobsledding, but luge has never seen a pairing like this until now.

The German sled of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken won the race in 1 minute, 16.644 seconds. Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt finished second and the Russian team of Vsevolod Kashkin and Konstantin Korshunov placed third for their first medal of the season.

The U.S. team of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman placed 11th.

But the story was the Canadian teens, who qualified for the World Cup event on Thursday. They were nearly a half-second behind any other finisher and almost 2.7 seconds back of Eggert and Benecken. But they’ll forever be able to say that they were winning the race at one point — a technicality because they were the first ones down the hill at the Whistler Sliding Center, but accurate nonetheless.

The only sled they beat was the Italian team of Ivan Nagler and Fabian Malleier, who crashed in the second heat.

There are women’s singles and men’s singles races on the World Cup luge circuit, but there is no rule saying doubles teams must be composed of two men. There have been more female doubles racers at the junior level in recent years, and it was generally considered to be just a matter of time before it happened at the World Cup level.

That time became Saturday.

Canada had the chance to qualify a second sled into the doubles field because some teams typically on the circuit chose to skip this weekend’s stop, and Nash and Corless got into by successfully finishing a Nations Cup qualifying race on Thursday.

They were 11th in that race out of 11 sleds, more than a full second behind the winner and nearly a half-second behind the closest finisher. But all they had to do was cross the line without crashing to get into Saturday’s competition, and earned their spot in the luge history books as a result.

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