Zoggeler leads Italian luge sweep at Lake Placid
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) -- Olympic and world champion Armin Zoggeler earned his 55th title in World Cup luge on Saturday, leading an Italian sweep of the men's event at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
The 39-year-old Zoggeler had a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 44.655 seconds in his 99th podium finish. He beat 19-year-old Dominik Fischnaller by .212 seconds, and David Mair was third.
World champion and World Cup leader Felix Loch of Germany injured a hand during training and did not compete in Lake Placid. Loch takes a 63-point lead over his German teammate David Moller into the final World Cup race of the season at Sochi, Russia.
Later in the day, Germany remained unbeaten and clinched the overall title in the team relay event.
All three of the American men had career-best performances in the World Cup. Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. was fifth, Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, tied for seventh and Joe Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y,. was 11th.
After skipping the world championships last weekend to rest his aching back, Zoggeler returned to the World Cup tour at Lake Placid and showed why he is one of the luge's greatest athletes.
The 10-time overall World Cup titlist recorded start times that were well below the average for the event, but turned in near-perfect driving performances. His time of 52.369 seconds in the first run put him .048 behind Fischnaller, the junior world champion.
While Zoggeler's start time in the second run was 21st, he completed the run in 52.286 for the fastest time of the competition. When Fischnaller faltered in the final run, Zoggeler had his first World Cup win in two seasons.
"This is a perfect track, a true luge track," Zoggeler said. "The start is not so important here. You must have good technique and it's important that you drive well."
Fischnaller said he struggled in his first visit to the one-mile, 19-turn track, but was sharp in the race and had the best finish of his short World Cup career.
"I had very bad training runs, but in the race I had the best two runs this week," he said. "I am totally happy with my second place and hope this continues."
Fischnaller trains with Zoggeler and has often been compared to his veteran teammate.
"Armin teaches me a lot," Fischnaller said. "Without him I would not have made it to the podium. It's a perfect situation."
Mazdzer, 24, followed his sixth at the world championships with his top World Cup finish. He was 12th after the first run, but had the fourth-best time of the second run to move up seven spots.
"Sliding is going really well," Mazdzer said. "I messed up the start for both runs, but I was able to make it up down the hill, which is good, which means I can slide. The start, you can work on that all the time. Sliding is the hardest part. At least that's good."
The team relay, which will be an Olympic medal sport at Sochi in 2014, combines the three luge disciplines - women's, men's and doubles - into a timed event. Germany's team of Natalie Geisenberger, Ralf Palik and the doubles sled of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt had a combined time of 2 minutes, 34.894 seconds to edge the U.S. team by .107 seconds. The German team has won all five World Cups and the world championships this season.
Wendl and Arlt made the final run of the competition and delivered the title when they finished with the second-fastest time of the doubles teams.
It was the best finish and first time on the podium this season for the American team of Julia Clukey of Augusta, Me., Mazdzer, Matthew Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Italian team finished third.
"It's a really fun event for us," Clukey said. "We're an individual sport, but as a team we have a great atmosphere and we pride ourselves on that. To come together as a team and all perform at our best and get the silver medal is huge for us. We've had some heart-breaking team relays this year and we missed the podium by less than two-hundredths of a second in the last two events so it feels really great to be up there on the podium."