ABOVE: Erin Hamlin in the outrun during the December 8 World Cup held in Altenberg, Germany
ALTENBERG, Germany - Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., led two American luge racers into the top 10 Saturday at the third World Cup stop of the season in Altenberg, Germany.
On a sunny and cold winter’s day along the border of the Czech Republic, Hamlin placed seventh, while Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., rebounding from a series of injuries in the first month of the season, took a career-best 10th place.
"This was definitely a step in the right direction," said Hamlin, 2009 World Champion and two-time Olympian. "I had two solid runs but a few things need to be improved. The lines (down the track) were good. It was a very big improvement from the last couple of weeks. It felt good to have a solid race."
"Right now my ankle and leg.....any touching and it hurts," said an unusually subdued Sweeney. "So it’s hard to be excited about my top 10. Coming into the season, that’s all I wanted. I should be really pumped right now, but my body is hating me. I’m struggling a bit."
Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, won for the second consecutive week, and led a German podium sweep. With her 12th career triumph, Geisenberger is atop the overall World Cup standings at 285 points.
Hamlin started the World Cup campaign with a pair of 11th place efforts, and sat in seventh after one heat before uncorking a final leg that was 0.26 of a second faster than her first. She had a two-run time of one minute, 45.369 seconds.
"The first run I was super tense," she continued. "There were a couple of spots where my lines were a little off, but nothing that caused any problems. My second run I had a problem at the start and kind of went crooked so there was a lot of time (lost) there. Overall in the second run my comfort level was a lot better. I tried to be more relaxed."
Hamlin is seventh in the standings with 114 World Cup points. Sweeney improves to 14th.with 82.
Sweeney is overcoming ankle and knee injuries incurred last month during training in Sochi. She also hurt her other leg during race training a few days ago in Altenberg. Sweeney has had minimal training runs on this track over the past three years.
The member of the Army National Guard had a pair of runs that totaled 1:45.662.
"My first run was alright. There were still some things I could fix," she stated. "On the second run I had a mistake up top and it cost me. But it’s still my personal best finish so that’s good."
Geisenberger came within 0.003 of a second of the track record in her first run. The time of 52.164 gave her a 0.164 advantage. She came back in 52.246 for a winning 1:44.410 total.
Anke Wischnewski, who grabbed gold on opening day in Igls, Austria two weeks agocollected the silver in 1:44.533, with Corinna Martini overtaking Canadian Alex Gough for the bronze in 1:44.766. Wischnewski is in second place with 245 points. Gough co-holds third with 200.
The winner of the past five overall World Cup titles and defending Olympic champion, Tatyana Huefner, also of Germany, was kept off the podium once again. Huefner was fifth, just behind Gough. The German won the 2012 world title on this track last February, and is tied for third with Gough in the standings.
Tatiana Ivanova, of Russia, the 2012 World Championship silver medalist and holder of the track record, settled for sixth place.
Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif. was 19th in 1:46.250. Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, was 22nd in 1:46.431. Hansen has 61 points and is 21st overall. Clukey, whose sixth place two weeks ago in Igls, Austria is the team’s best result this year, is 13th with 89 points.
The doubles race saw Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk also record the best World Cup resultof their careers. Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa. were 12th after finishing fifth in Friday’s Nations Cup qualifying.
Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, of Germany, continued their torrid streak to open the season with the fastest two heats of the day and have a 60 point lead in the overall World Cup chase. In winning for the 13th time in their careers, they lowered the Altenberg track record in each leg.
The Germans clocked runs of 41.355 and 42.299 for a 1:22.654 total. Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, who trailed the winners noticeably at the start, took silver in 1:23.018, followed by the German sled of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken in 1:23.218.
Wendl and Arlt have 300 World Cup points. Eggert and Benecken are second at 240, with Penz and Fischler third with 215.
Conspicuous by their absence in the top three of the rankings are the defending World Cup champions, two-time Olympic gold medalists and three-time World Champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger. The Austrian brothers were fifth in Saturday’s race and have slipped to fourth in the standings.
Hyrns and Sherk posted a time of 1:23.876. Teammates Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah finished 13th in 1:23.931.
Mortensen and Griffall are in ninth place with 100 World Cup points, while Hyrns and Sherk are 16th with 74.
The Altenberg race program concludes Sunday with men’s singles and the team relay.
Follow the action with live timing and scoring at www.fil-luge.org.
Doubles and women’s results
Interviews with Erin Hamlin, Emily Sweeney and USA Luge Sport Program Director Mark Grimmette