Chris Mazdzer finished his second and final run, checked his time and felt a brief pang of disappointment.
A very brief one.
Mazdzer wrapped up a spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team with a fourth-place finish in a World Cup race at Igls, Austria on Saturday, which more than took the sting away from missing out on what would have been his first individual medal on the circuit.
The 25-year-old from Saranac Lake, is the first USA Luge competitor to satisfy all the necessary criteria for a berth on the team that will be heading to the Sochi Games in February. He will be part of the group formally nominated on Dec. 14.
“It’s a huge burden off,” said Mazdzer, who narrowly missed making the Olympic team as a high school senior in 2006 and finished 13th at the 2010 Vancouver Games. “You don’t really have to worry about what-ifs.”
Erin Hamlin doesn’t have much to worry about now, either. The 2009 world champion was sixth in the women’s race on Saturday, which USA Luge said “satisfied the selection criteria” for her nomination to the team, and while that is a huge step it doesn’t completely lock up a spot on the roster. But if nothing else, she’s assured of no worse than being in a race-off for an Olympic berth.
Hamlin could still clinch a spot before Dec. 14 by finishing at least fifth in any of the next three races at Winterberg, Whistler or Park City.
“I really want that top five,” Hamlin said.
She had a shot on Saturday, sitting in fourth after the first run. She wound up finishing sixth, on a day where the always-powerful German women’s team flexed its collective muscle once again.
Germany finished 1-2-3-4 in the women’s race. Natalie Geisenberger led the showing with a two-run time of 1 minute, 20.135 seconds for her second win in as many races this season. In the last 12 World Cup or world championship races dating back to the start of last season, Geisenberger — the reigning overall champion and overwhelming Sochi gold-medal favorite — has nine wins and three runner-up finishes.
Also for the U.S. women, Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., (1:20.709) was eighth, 16 spots better than her finish when she crashed out of last week’s World Cup opener at Lillehammer, Norway. Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine, (1:20.834) was 12th and Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif., (1:21.238) was 23rd.
Germany’s Felix Loch won the men’s race, turning in the fastest run in both heats on his way to a winning time of 1:40.878. Germany’s David Moller won the silver in 1:41.052, and Dominik Fischnaller of Italy took the bronze in 1:41.102.
Mazdzer’s fourth-place time was 1:41.133. He was fifth in a World Cup last year on his home track in Lake Placid and sixth in last season’s world championships.
“So close,” Mazdzer said.
Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, was 24th (1:41.991), Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn., was 26th (1:42.104) and Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., was 30th (1:42.509).
Germans win doubles, team relay
Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken edged fellow Germans Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt on Sunday to win a World Cup luge doubles race.
Eggert and Benecken finished two runs in 1 minute, 21.016 seconds. Wendl and Arlt finished in 1:21.099. Peter Penz and Georg Fischler of Austria were third in 1:21.299.
Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman were the top U.S. sled, finishing 14th. Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall were 15th, while Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk placed 18th.
In the team relay, Germany made it a perfect 4-for-4 in gold medals this weekend, with the team of Natalie Geisenberger, Felix Loch and Eggert-Benecken finishing in 2:11.798. Canada was second, Italy third, and the U.S. team of Erin Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer and Niccum-Terdiman just missed a medal, placing fourth.