German women sweep, US doubles 11th & 16th, Wendl-Arlt win 5th straight
KOENIGSSEE, Germany - While German women dominated on their home track with a 1-2-3 finish Saturday, American Julia Clukey keeps inching her way up the leaderboard.
After a bronze medal finish Friday in the Nations Cup qualifier, the 2010 Olympian is finding more confidence and a new comfort level as she finished with a strong sixth place effort despite teeming rain in the Bavarian Alps.
The end of the 12 days of Christmas marks the feast of the Epiphany, and while the week may have been a smaller feast for Clukey, it was an epiphany of sorts as she learned more about her sliding and herself in the comeback from Arnold-Chiari Syndrome and knee surgery.
"I have to be relaxed and smooth on the sled," continued Clukey. "Looking at the split times, a couple of years ago I was only carrying my speed half way down the track. But to see I was second (today) coming out of Kriesel (360 degree turn), for me, is moving in the right direction.
"I’ve been focusing on all the small things in my sliding. This year I’m paying attention to my equipment and understanding how my sled works and what’s best for me as a driver, as a slider."
As for the physical issues of recent seasons, "I haven’t thought about my back or neck," said Clukey. "It’s no longer a thought in my head. I’m strong. I’m back lifting. Those are things of the past."
The Augusta, Maine slider took advantage of her typically strong start on Koenigssee’s long, flat start ramp. She is now qualified for next month’s World Championships at Whistler, B.C., Canada. Teammate Erin Hamlin, who placed 10th in the competition, qualified last month for Whistler.
As she did in Friday’s Nations Cup qualifier, Clukey was on the heels of eventual winner Natalie Geisenberger through the final intermediate time, but then gave back a few fractions of a second prior to the finish.
She had an aggregate two-heat time of 1:43.023, which was 0.7 of a second from Geisenberger, and 0.4 from the podium. Clukey is ranked 10th on the campaign with 175 points. Sixth place matched her best result of the season which was recorded on opening day in Igls, Austria.
Hamlin, the two-time Olympian and 2009 World Champion from Remsen, N.Y. put in a good week of training, and finished strongly in each heat Saturday to jump into the top 10. She clocked two runs totaling 1:43.713.
"My runs were alright," she stated. "My first run start was even respectable for me but it just didn’t come together today. It is a bummer to be disappointed with a top 10 finish but when you are striving to be the best, and have been at the top before, nothing else is quite as satisfying or acceptable."
Hamlin, the highest ranked American, is seventh overall with 200 points.
Emily Sweeney exits the famous Kreisel corner in Koenigssee during the Jan. 5th World CUp event. Photo: AP
Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., a member of the Army National Guard, placed 19th in 1:44.640, while Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif. was timed in 1:45.022 for 21st place.
Sweeney is tied for 14th at 128 points, with Hansen, the 2008 Junior World Champion, at 93 points for 24th place.
The day belonged to Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, the tour leader who recorded her third win of the year to go with two silver medals. Geisenberger’s runs of 51.253 and 51.072 seconds totaled 1:42.325 seconds. The 2010 Olympic bronze medal winner has piled up 470 World Cup points.
German youth was served behind Geisenberger as Carina Schwab took the silver and equaled her career best in the World Cup. Schwab’s time was 1:42.642. Junior World Champion Aileen Frisch stepped onto the World Cup podium for the first time in her career with a bronze medal in 1:42.710. The silver and bronze medalists overcame lackluster starts and drove their way onto the medal stand.
Anke Wischnewski, also of Germany, was fifth in the race, and is second on the season with 370 points. Tatiana Ivanova, of Russia, 11th on the day, is third after five of nine World Cups with 280 points.
Another German, Vancouver Olympic gold medalist Tatyana Huefner, recovering from a back issue, has not competed since last month. She is scheduled to return next week in Oberhof, Germany.
Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa. led the U.S. doubles effort Saturday by taking a career best 11th place in 1:43.639. The team is still trying to qualify for World Championships. Sherk’s mother, Ellen, however, beat her son’s team in "qualifying" as she won a randomly drawn sweepstakes Friday through Ludus Tours and USA Luge to attend the world event. The contest winner and a guest will be feted by the team at the 2010 Olympic site. The promotion was a fundraiser for the national federation.
Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah, placed 16th in 1:44.307. The members of the Army National Guard’s World Class Athlete Program had qualified for worlds last month.
The German doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt are a perfect five for five after winning once again on their home course. They dominated start to finish with the best interval times and best final times of both heats to win by 0.87 of a second over teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken. It was their third runner-up finish of the season.
Wendl and Arlt have shown the ability to win on cold, hard ice and now in warmer, softer conditions. They had run times of 50.681 and 50.730 to total 1:41.411. Eggert and Benecken had the silver medal time of 1:42.287, with Austria’s Peter Penz and Georg Fischler next in 1:42.651.
Wendl and Artl, with 500 overall World Cup points, are threatening to end the overall chase well before the conclusion of the season. Penz and Fischler, despite two silver and two bronze medals in the five starts, are a distant second with 370, followed closely by Eggert and Benecken in third with 367.
Mortensen and Griffall are 10th with 157, and Hyrns and Sherk, in their first full year on the World Cup tour, are ranked 13th with 133.
Two-time Olympic champions and three-time World Champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger of Austria placed seventh in the race. With just one podium result this year, the brothers are fourth on the campaign.
The Koenigssee race program concludes Sunday with men’s singles and the team relay starting at 3 AM Eastern Time.
Follow the action with live timing and scoring at www.fil-luge.org.
Hear the complete interviewwith Julia Clukey.
Complete women’s and doublesresults: