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U.S. Olympic luge team finalized with nail-biting result

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Tucker West left no doubt, clinching his second U.S. Olympic luge berth with a World Cup podium Friday. Two of his countrymen, meanwhile, are going to PyeongChang by a fraction of a second.

The doubles team of Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk made the Olympics by six hundredths of a second in Lake Placid, N.Y. That meant Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza missed the Olympic team by six hundredths of a second.

The race for the last doubles spot was the most exciting as the U.S. luge team was finalized at the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic site in the last 24 hours.

Krewson and Sherk, first-time Olympians, are part of this full U.S. luge team for PyeongChang:

Erin Hamlin (qualified last month)
Summer Britcher
Emily Sweeney
Tucker West
Chris Mazdzer
Taylor Morris
Matt Mortensen/Jayson Terdiman
Justin Krewson
/Andrew Sherk

The full list of U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang across all sports is here.

All of those 10 lugers competed in Sochi save Sweeney, Morris and Krewson and Sherk.

Krewson, 21, and Sherk, 25, were essentially in a race-off Friday with Hyrns and Espinoza, both 24, for the second and final doubles berth behind Mortensen and Terdiman.

Hyrns and Espinoza had the edge by .012 after the first of two runs but slowed negligibly in the second run.

Krewson and Sherk sped up in the second run to steal the Olympic berth with a sixth-place finish overall, matching their best result since teaming in 2015 (Sherk previously slid with Hyrns).

Mortensen and Terdiman were fifth in Friday’s race won by Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, the Germans who captured the last seven World Cup doubles races dating to last season (non-sprint). Full results are here.

Mortensen and Terdiman, who raced in Sochi with different partners, made three World Cup podiums last season and finished third in the season standings.

A U.S. doubles team hasn’t won a World Cup race in 12 years or an Olympic medal since 2002.

Later Friday, West went into the last Olympic qualifying race knowing his PyeongChang berth was nearly sewn up. It would have taken an incredible finish from two other Americans to bump him off the Olympic team.

No matter, West set the track record in his first run and ended up third overall (losing his track record to Russian winner Roman Repilov in the second run).

But no U.S. man has made a World Cup podium on a non-North American track since February 2016.

The World Cup stopped at the PyeongChang Olympic venue last February, where the top American was Mazdzer in 12th. That did not boost hopes for the first U.S. Olympic men’s singles luge medal this February.

Morris, who missed the 2014 Olympic team by one spot, made the Olympics with a fifth-place finish Friday. Mazdzer was eighth.

The women’s team has been the U.S.’ strongest in recent seasons and heads to PyeongChang with multiple medal hopes.

It is led by Hamlin, the Sochi bronze medalist who was the first luger to make the Olympic team last month. Britcher and Sweeney each clinched berths before the final qualifying race Saturday.

Britcher went to Sochi as a surprise U.S. Olympian — youngest on the women’s luge team at age 19 — on her first season on the World Cup circuit.

Britcher finished 15th in Sochi, third out of three U.S. women, after upsetting 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey for the last spot on the team.

Since, she has won three World Cups and made the podium in four others. Britcher at one point led the World Cup standings early in the 2015-16 season.

Britcher’s consistency this season helped her qualify for the Olympics without having to sweat it out in Lake Placid like the doubles teams and some of the men.

Ditto for Sweeney, who won a World Cup sprint race (a non-Olympic event) in Winterberg last month.

The Olympic favorites are Germans Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, the last two gold medalists.

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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