Last week I said it was going to be a luge centered week, and it was. I was in Lake Placid for four days officiating, observing, and sliding.
Wednesday was a practice day for the World Cup athletes. They get a couple of days of training on the track before the competition to acclimate themselves to the track. That’s true for all races, but was particularly important here for this race. The last time that the World Cup tour went through Lake Placid was in 2009 so many of the athletes have only a limited amount of practice on this track. Since it is a tough technical track, knowing the track is important. I volunteered to be a start official for practice. Basically that meant that I was at the start house making sure that the sliding sessions flowed well. I also brought a couple of my students to film the practice session for USLA. The wanted to get video of the lines other teams were taking on our track.
This is Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, current World Cup women’s points leader, getting ready for a start.
And much like my fellow club sliders, even the pro’s had some issues and found the walls. The men’s World Cup points leader Felix Loch (also from Germany) crashed about half way through his first run, injured his wrist, and withdrew from the competition.
The race itself was on Friday and Saturday. Friday was doubles and women. My job as official both days was to be at the start checking to make sure that no one was cheating. You might remember that we had a little snow storm here in the Eastern US on Thursday/Friday. Friday’s races came in the midst of the storm and so the usual view from the track was a little obscured.
From that angle you can usually see the ski jump towers in Lake Placid and Whiteface in the distance. Not on Friday. The teams began to arrive and the start house and deck was filled with sounds of spoken German.
A race is organized chaos. The officials are there to make sure that the right person is sliding at the right time, that the sleds and sliders are legal, and that the proper procedures are followed. We are not supposed to be watching or listening to the race and we are definitely not supposed to be cheering. And that was tested on Friday. The US women came to slide. After the first heat we had 4 sliders in the top 10 with one 3rd and another 5th. Both striking distance for medals.
A luge race is composed of two runs. Lowest total time wins. The order of the first run is determined randomly, but the second in in reverse order of finish from run 1. That means that the fastest slider goes last.
One of the other special things about this race was the fact that we had spectators. Usually there are not a lot of people watching. When the club races we might get some parents and spouses. When the national team races we might get some extended family. For this race we had TV. In fact the timing of the race was dictated by the TV schedule. We were told what time each slider would get off the handles and onto the track.
We also had spectators. When they announced the first US slider of the second run, a roar went up from around the track. It was amazing. Emily Sweeny slide her run and was in second place. The next US slider was Kate Hansen and when she got to the bottom she found herself (at least temporarily) in first place. Emily and Kate were too far out to realistically chase for a medal, but their races were great. Then Erin Hamlin put down a fast run and found herself in first place and the track went wild. We were getting close to medal contention. Canadian Alex Gough followed Erin and finished 0.011 seconds ahead of Erin. Think about that for a minute. The total time for the two runs was about 90 seconds and they were separated by 0.011 seconds in total time.
Julia Clukey followed Alex and had a great run (she was 0.017 seconds ahead of Gough). The US was in first, and with two sliders to go Julia was going to get a medal. That left two German sliders. Right now the German’s dominate the sport. All the other countries are chasing them. But here is the thing. This track is tough and you have to slide well, you cannot relax, and small mistakes are a problem. The second place German slid her second run, tapped a wall, and dropped to 5th place. The American officials let out a little smiles of glee, and “yes'” under our breath. Our start leader reminded us not to cheer (with a little smile on his face). That left one slider, Natalie Geisenberger. And well, she didn’t choke. To give you a sense of how good she is, Geisenberger was 0.3 seconds ahead of Julia.
It was an awesome day for the US women who finished 2nd, 5th , 6th and 9th.