USA Luge heads to worlds, looking to add to breakout season
MIAMI (AP) There are some venues synonymous with the best a particular sport has to offer. Golf has Augusta National. Basketball has Madison Square Garden. Horse racing has Churchill Downs.
And luge has Konigssee.
The Germans have long dominated luge, and this facility - the oldest artificial sliding track in the world - is one of the reasons why that's the case. Konigssee will host the world luge championships this weekend, and in the middle of a few thousand passionate Bavarians will be a small contingent of flag-waving Americans looking to see if USA Luge can grab its shiniest prize yet this season.
The U.S. team has 16 medals on the World Cup circuit already this winter, topping its single-season record with three tour stops remaining before the sleds get put away for the offseason. But to medal at the world championships, especially in historic Konigssee where the Germans are always heavily favored, would make this breakout winter look that much better.
''I'd be fine with doing something big anywhere,'' said 2009 world champion Erin Hamlin of Remsen, New York. ''But it's definitely a place that's very well known.''
Hamlin's gold was the last medal won by the Americans at a world championships, hers coming on home ice in Lake Placid, New York. This season figures to represent the best U.S. chance at changing that - with the Americans winning seven World Cup golds so far this season, led by Hamlin and Summer Britcher on the women's side and two-time men's winner Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, New York.
They see the races this weekend - Friday through Sunday - as a huge opportunity to validate this season's success.
''The word validate would definitely work if we did come away with a medal or two here,'' Mazdzer said. ''This is the German track. This sport is German. Essentially, this is the place where you really want to do well, really want to kind of stick it to the home nation because they train here so often.''
Konigssee is German champion Felix Loch's home track, and he would be the overwhelming favorite this weekend after winning the last five World Cup men's events. He and Mazdzer are the only multiple men's World Cup race winners this season.
But the women's field, in both singles and new sprint events, seems wide open. German star Natalie Geisenberger has climbed back atop the World Cup standings, even while Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, has led the tour with three wins so far. Hamlin has a win as well, and in all six women combined to win in nine events to open the season.
That doesn't happen in luge, where one or two sliders usually dominate. The times are changing, and Britcher said that's long overdue.
''I think the sport definitely needed this,'' Britcher said. ''I think it's more interesting for everybody. It's nice to see people actually appreciating wins. I think it develops the sport as a whole and it makes everyone see that it is possible to succeed. It's good for everybody.''