US bobsled, skeleton and luge all on home ice this weekend
Home-ice advantage is real in sliding sports, and the U.S. is hoping it rings true again this weekend.
All three U.S. national sliding programs are hosting World Cups starting Friday. The bobsled and skeleton tour is back in Lake Placid, New York - where temperatures well below zero are expected on Friday - and luge's international schedule continues in Park City, Utah, where Tucker West of the U.S. will aim for a third consecutive win.
It's the first time both World Cup circuits have simultaneously been in the U.S. since December 2013.
''There really is a home-track advantage for us,'' said U.S. bobsled driver Steven Holcomb, who probably has more runs on the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid than anyone else. ''If you go to any 100-meter track in the world, it's 100 meters. If you race a mile, it's a mile, wherever you are. Bobsledding, it's never the same from one track to another. It's a huge advantage.''
That's a big part of why West's first two career wins were at Lake Placid, the track he knows best. Winning on other tracks, that's a sign of becoming a true international contender.
West prevailed in Lake Placid two weeks ago, then won in a one-run race last weekend at Whistler, British Columbia. Training and racing for the entire week was condensed to one day because a shipment of sleds was delayed nearly four days after a massive snowstorm snarled traffic.
Park City is a track where U.S. teammate Chris Mazdzer won the men's singles race last season.
''It's kind of hard to put a finger on what the secret sauce is,'' West said. ''Obviously, Lake Placid is a track that I know and love. I've taken many runs there, so I'm comfortable there. Whistler, on the other hand, was just a crazy situation for us.''
West is eighth in the World Cup luge overall men's standings, significant because he's gotten points in just two of the four races. He was disqualified from the season-opening race in Igls, Austria, because he and his sled slightly exceeded weight limits. By getting DQ'ed there, he was also ineligible to compete in the Sprint Cup race that same weekend.
So even though his competitors have had as many as four chances to pick up points, West is still within striking distance of the World Cup lead.
''Tucker didn't come out of anywhere,'' Mazdzer said. ''He's been consistent the last two years. He's been really solid. To be honest, not much has changed in him. He's consistent on race day. He's got a great start. ... I would expect him to be consistent and that's what I'm impressed with.''
USA Luge won five medals at the World Cup in Park City last season; USA Bobsled and Skeleton won three in Lake Placid last season, all of them gold.
This is the first competition for bobsled and skeleton athletes since international officials pulled out this season's world championships from Russia this week. Several sliders cited doping-related concerns as a reason they were considering a boycott.
While that's certainly added some drama, Holcomb said the Americans know this is a critical weekend.
''It's always big for us to be in Lake Placid,'' Holcomb said.