PARK CITY, Utah – Emily Sweeney, who captured the 2013 Junior World Championship at the Utah Olympic Park, won her second straight seeding event, while the team of Jake Hyrns with hometown racer Anthony Espinoza, bolted to the doubles victory.
The week in the Wasatch played out in spring-like weather during the early sliding sessions and fall temperatures for night training and racing.
“It was 60 degrees, but with the sun beating down, I swear it feels like 80 out here,” said West. In a best two runs of three format, the Ridgefield, Conn. resident topped the field with heat times of 45.800 and 46.017 seconds, totaling 1 minute, 31.817 seconds.
“We’ve been dealing with it (weather) all week. It’s been really hot here in Park City. So it’s not very conducive to luge sliding, but we made it work. The track crew here did a fantastic job of keeping the ice clean and fast for us. It was really just a mental adjustment.
“Each week we’re getting better and better, progressing more and more, and I feel like that’s still true. Every day I’m getting more comfortable on the sled. We’re figuring out what (sled) set-up’s working for us. We’re making adjustments to our equipment. Things are looking good for us.”
In addition to his Park City triumph, the Union College student also claimed victories this fall in Lake Placid and Whistler, B.C. He leads a group of four U.S. men who will start the World Cup season in three weeks in Winterberg, Germany.
Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., was second in 1:31.957, with Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, third in 1:32.656. Jonny Gustafson, of Massena, N.Y., technically a member of the Junior National Team, was fourth in 1:32.793.
Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian who placed a career best third in the World Cup last year, along with Morris and Gustafson will join West for the World Cup opener. John Fennell, of Rouses Point, N.Y., was fifth in the Park City event and will return to Lake Placid to continue training. Fennell is slated to compete in the three North American World Cups in December – Lake Placid, Whistler and Park City – that follow Winterberg.
Riley Stohr, of Whitehall, Mich., was out of the lineup Thursday night after suffering a back injury away from the ice.
Sweeney continues her domination despite a wrist that was surgically repaired in late summer. It limits her effectiveness at the start, but she has been able to overcome the issue in winning for the second time in three outings.
“I actually did not handle that very well,” stated Sweeney. “I struggled with it a little bit because I would create bad habits in the morning session when it’s slower and then I’d try to break those habits in the night session when it’s colder. So for me, it was a little difficult.
“I’m not thrilled with my sliding for tonight. My wrist is OK. It’s pretty tired right now. I’ve asked a lot of it the past few days and I’m just trying to get the inflammation back down and get ahead of it. So that’ll be my goal for my wrist for the next few days. Sliding wise, I have a few things I have to clean up for when we come back for the World Cup.”
Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., fourth in the World Cup standings last season, took second behind Sweeney in 1:29.691, with Raychel Germaine, of Roswell, Ga., third in a time of 1:29.828.
Summer Britcher, also a member of the 2014 Sochi team, was fourth as she is limited by a sore shoulder and did not pull from the start handles. Britcher, the current Norton National Champion and winner of the first seeding race, tied last season for the most World Cup victories with three.
The four women comprise the U.S. roster for World Cup racing.
Another Junior National Team member, Brittney Arndt, competing on home ice in Park City, finished fifth. Arndt and Grace Weinberg, of Pittsfield, Vt., who did not race, are set to join the juniors in a matter of days at training camps at Whistler and Calgary.
Hyrns and Espinoza were the third doubles team in as many competitions to post victories in the seeding events.
“The first two runs we took were about as identical as you could get and they were not bad runs. They were very, very good runs, I’d like to say,” said Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. “We took a third run. We were just trying to beat our personal best on the start which we also pulled today, a 3.079. We just went ballistic on the start trying to pull as fast as we could and it ended up not working. We hit two walls and still pulled a 3.079 again.”
Last season, Hyrns and Sherk left the World Cup circuit in mid-season and spent a month sliding double sessions in Park City. That advantage came into play in this gold medal performance.
“Two great runs, two great starts. It was an awesome way to end up the week,” added Espinoza, of Park City. “This week was a confidence booster for both of us. A full week of great sliding, and to end it with a race like this, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
“We spent six weeks here last winter after our first half was cut. So we’re kind of back to familiar ice, familiar track. It really helped us out for the confidence boost we needed. Once we realized we can slide this track, it really helped us gain flow in our sliding ability.”
They bested Justin Krewson, of Eastport, N.Y., and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., by 0.3 of a second over the two runs. The winners clocked 44.372 and 44.542 for an aggregate 1:28.914. The runners-up recorded 1:29.213, with Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., fifth in the World Cup a season ago, third in 1:29.312.
All three teams are headed abroad for the beginning of the World Cup tour. Before that takes place, however, there’s one more sliding session Friday morning before the Saturday flight to Europe and the final two weeks heading to Winterberg.