After four seasons of World Cups since Sochi, and countless of runs down the track for every athlete competing, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games are upon us! In the event you’re new to the Olympic sliding sports, or just need to know who’s who, here is the Sliding On Ice PyeongChang 2018 Olympics Sliding Sport Preview.
Defending Olympic Champion: Beat Hefti
2017 Test Event Podium: Francesco Friedrich (g) / Oskars Kibermanis (s) / Johannes Lochner (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Justin Kripps
The class of the field this season in two-man bobsled was Canadian Justin Kripps. Not only was he both the two-man and combined bobsled champion, but Kripps also never finished out of the top four. Further, he finished eighth in a tight race where he had the second-fastest run in the second heat.
North Americans did well in the test event in PyeongChang, with both Justin Olsen and Codie Bascue finishing in the top ten for the United States, and Chris Spring and Nick Poloniato joining Kripps in the top eight. Nick Cunningham only competed in five World Cup events in the 2017/2018 season, but had top fives in three of them and should be a contender as well.
All of that said, German Francesco Friedrich has been really good for a really long time now, dominating the tracks in Europe and winning the test event in Pyeongchang. He will be leading a revitalized German squad looking to put behind them a disastrous Sochi games. Nico Walther and Johannes Lochner both have slid well this season, with all three Germans in the top six in points.
The wildcard in two-man will be Yunjong Won of Korea. Won was the 2015/2016 World Cup champion, and is sliding on home ice. On top of all of that, Won’s been nearly nonexistent on the IBSF tours this season, concentrating on getting as many practice runs as possible down the Alpensia Sliding Center. Nobody will have a better understanding of how to go fast on the South Korean track than Won, which gives him a major edge over the field.
You can also expect to see both Oskars Melbardis and Oskars Kibermanis contending for medals in two-man. Kibermanis finished second in the test event, and Melbardis is back to form after back surgery two seasons ago.
Defending Olympic Champion: Oskars Melbardis
2017 Test Event Podium: Alexander Kasjanov (g) / Rico Peter (s) / Oskars Kibermanis (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Johannes Lochner
Germany swept the top three spots in the World Cup during the 2017/2018 season, with a German winning gold in every four-man event except Whistler (Kasjanov). Both Nico Walther and Johannes Lochner won a pile of medals during the season and are arguably driving better now than they ever have. On top of that, they finished fifth and sixth in the 2017 test event.
In theory, this should make them a lock for at least a medal or two in four-man. Now here’s why they might not be.
Both Latvian squads were solid in the 2017 test event, with Oskards Kibermanis edging Oskars Melbardis for the bronze medal. Both men have been consistent this season, with Melbardis finishing fifth overall and ending the year with a silver medal in Königssee.
Counting out the Canadians would be a bad idea as well. While they haven’t exactly had the same success in four-man as they have in two-man, both Justin Krispps and Chris Spring finished in the top six in points, and could have a really good showing.
The Americans haven’t had the success this season in four-man that they’d have hoped for. New equipment coming into PyeongChang 2018 should help them stay in the hunt.
Much like in two-man, Yungjon Won will be the wildcard in all of this. Won traditionally hasn’t had the success in four-man as he has in two-man, finishing sixth in the test event and never better than 15th overall in the World Cup. But he’s on home ice, and will have more runs on that track than the rest of the Olympic field combined.
Benjamin Maier of Austria has also been sliding extremely well this season, and shouldn’t be counted out of the medal hunt. Nor should either British squad, as both Brad Hall and Lamin Deen have found success in four-man.
Defending Olympic Champion: Kaillie Humphries
2017 Test Event Podium: Jamie Greubel Poser (g) / Elana Meyers Taylor (s) / Alysia Rissling (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Kaillie Humphries
Since the 2014 Olympics, the women’s bobsled ranks have been dominated by the North Americans. Jamie Greubel Poser, Elana Meyers Taylor, and Kaillie Humphries have combined to win all but five World Cup gold medals in that time, and two of the three World Championships.
Humphries is the two-time defending Olympic Champion, and much like in 2014 her two biggest challengers in PyeongChang will be Greubel Poser and Meyers Taylor. On top of that, Humphries’ teammate, Alysia Rissling, finished third in the test event (behind the Americans) in PyeongChang. By far, the women’s bobsled event will be the best chance North America has to sweeping the podium.
Despite all of that, the German women have come on strong this year, with both Stephanie Schneider and Mariama Jamanka contending for (and winning) medals all season. The biggest strength for Germany, however, isn’t the women piloting the sleds, but instead the woman on the brakes.
Annika Drazek competed in five events during the 2017/2018 season, and in four of those events she was on the brakes for the top-finishing German sled. In the one event she wasn’t, she and Mariama Jamanka finished third. The Jamanka/Drazek duo was also the only non-North American squad in the top five in the PyeongChang test event.
While they haven’t shown the form this season that they have in seasons past, both Elfje Willemsen (Belgium) and Christina Hengster (Austria) are solid pilots who have years of experience to play off of. If a sled outside of the USA/CAN/GER triumvirate can work its way into podium contention, it will likely be one of those two women. Alternately, junior Yooran Kim will be playing off of a year of practice on her home track in South Korea to possibly throw a monkey wrench into everyone’s plans.
Defending Olympic Champion: Alexander Tretiakov (pending IOC appeal)
2017 Test Event Podium: Martins Dukurs (g) / Sungbin Yun (s) / Tomass Dukurs (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Sungbin Yun
By far, men’s skeleton is South Korea’s best bet to win a gold medal in sliding sports. Sungbin Yun spent the 2017/2018 World Cup campaign dominating the circuit, winning five golds in seven events, and never finishing outside of the top two. On top of that, Yun skipped the final race in Königssee and still won the overall title.
And he’s on home ice.
That line just above this one has been the thorn in the side for Martins Dukurs for eight years now. In Vancouver, Dukurs finished second to Jon Montgomery of Canada. In Sochi, he finished second to Alexander Tretiakov of Russia (pending IOC appeal). And now there’s a very distinct chance he could finish second to Sungbin Yun in Korea. Both he and brother Tomass have admittedly spent the last two seasons in “testing mode”, spending a lot of races trying out new equipment. They’ll show what they’ve figured out, but will need some help to beat Yun.
Much like in bobsled, Germany’s skeleton program struggled in the Sochi Olympics, but in the time since have made major gains. Axel Jungk has never finished outside of the top ten in a World Cup event, and will lead a squad who all finished in the top ten in the 2017 test event.
While Matt Antoine and John Daly have, by their standards, struggled during the 2017/2018 campaign, both have made major gains in the second half of the World Cup season. Antoine had a top ten to show for his test event, and will look to build on that going into the Games.
Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada and Dom Parsons of Great Britain both had moments of brilliance during the 2017/2018 season, but finished just outside of the top ten in the test event. If Greszczyszyn can find his form he had in Winterberg, or Parsons finds his St. Moritz form, both could be contenders.
Defending Olympic Champion: Lizzy Yarnold
2017 Test Event Podium: Jacqueline Lölling (g) / Elena Nikitina (s) / Kimberley Bos (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Jacqueline Lölling
The women’s skeleton podium may be the most “up in the air” medal of all of the sliding sports. Jacqueline Lölling was the class of the field during the World Cup season, finding her form after a bumpy start in Lake Placid. Lölling also won the test event in 2017, with the margin of victory over the first eligible 2018 Olympian being .35 over Dutch slider Kimberley Bos.
A look at the rest of the top ten of the test event, combined with the World Cup standings from this year, shows a podium that’s completely unpredictable.
Lölling’s teammates Anna Fernstädt and Tina Hermann both finished in the top ten in the test event, and have both been sliding well. Elisabeth Vathje, Jane Channell, and Mimi Rahneva all won medals during the World Cup season, with both Vathje and Rahneva finishing in the top six in the test event.
Defending Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold had a very up and down 2017/2018 World Cup season, but finished the year with a fourth place run. She also finished fourth in the test event, missing out on a medal by just .04. Both she and teammate Laura Deas expect to be competitive in Korea.
Americans Katie Uhlaender and Kendall Wesenberg both slid well in the test event in 2017. Their 2017/2018 World Cup seasons weren’t ideal, but Uhlaender has been coming back from injury. If either woman slides like they’re capable of across four heats, neither can be counted out.
Looking to make her mark on the 2018 games is Janine Flock of Austria, who struggled to find consistency during the 2017/2018 season. The 2014/2015 World Cup champion won three medals (including two golds), but also failed to break into the top ten four times. If Flock can find her stride, she’ll be a medal contender.
Defending Olympic Champion: Felix Loch
2017 Test Event Podium: Dominik Fischnaller (g) / Andi Langenhan (s) / Samuel Edney (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Felix Loch
Two-time defending Olympic champion Felix Loch didn’t necessarily walk all over the competition during the 2017/2018 season, and he didn’t race in Pyeongchang during the 2017 test event, but he’ll still go into the 2018 Olympic Games as an overwhelming favorite. At his mediocre-est, Loch is still better than half of the field going into the games, and at his best he’s a tough man to beat.
The three men most likely to unseat Loch are Dominik Fischnaller (Italy), Semen Pavlichenko (Olympic Athlete of Russia), and Wolfgang Kindl (Austria).
While Fischnaller has struggled some this season, he won the 2017 test event handily (by luge standards), and has shown signs of life late in the 2017/2018 campaign. Pavlichenko had a disastrous first run in Pyeongchang in 2017, but a fifth-quickest run in the second heat showed that he could put down a good time in Korea. He’s been sliding even better this season, and consistency could easily put him on the podium. Kindl, on the other hand, struggled in Pyeongchang, but has been solid throughout the World Cup tour this season.
The dark horses in all of this will be the North Americans. Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer have both struggled to find any semblance of consistency over the course of the 2017/2018 World Cup tour, but both have shown flashes of brilliance over the last quad. Sam Edney will go into his third Olympic Games as a bit of an underdog, but the Canadian finished third in the test event and will be able to draw on Olympic experience in the four-heat run.
Defending Olympic Champion: Natalie Geisenberger
2017 Test Event Podium: Tatyana Ivanova (g) / Natalie Geisenberger (s) / Julia Taubitz (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Natalie Geisenberger
There’s no denying that Natalie Geisenberger has been the class of the women’s luge field this year. Over the course of the 2017/2018 World Cup season the German never finished off the podium, and won over half of the non-sprint events during the season. Far and away she’s going into the Olympics as a favorite to defend her gold medal.
German teammates Natalie Eitberger and Tatjana Hüfner will both be trying to unseat Geisenberger on atop the podium. Eitberger finished second overall despite a tough weekend in Lillehammer that saw her missing the sprint. Hüfner missed two events (Königssee and the Sigulda sprint) and still finished fifth overall. Both women won gold medals during the season, with Eitberger finding the podium five times during the 2017/2018 World Cup. Both women also finished in the top four in the 2017 test event.
The United States women failed to match their overwhelmingly successful 2016/2017 World Cup season, only winning four medals overall. That said, Summer Britcher finished the season third overall thanks to a strong second half of the year, and Erin Hamiln will go into her final races of her career as the greatest “big race” slider USA Luge has seen in decades. With Britcher, Hamiln, and Emily Sweeney, the United States has a very real shot at a podium in Pyeongchang.
Much like in women’s bobsled, the women’s event is where North America has the best chance to shine. Alex Gough of Canada ripped off three silvers in a row mid-season, and finished fourth overall in the World Cup. Teammate Kimberley McRae finished sixth in the test event in 2017, with the fourth-quickest run in the second heat.
Martina Kocher of Switzerland, Ulla ZIrne of Latvia, and Sandra Robatscher of Italy all have had speed during the season, and could play spoiler if anyone contending for a podium makes a mistake.
Defending Olympic Champion: Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt
2017 Test Event Podium: Eggert & Benecken (g) / Wendl & Arlt (s) / Geueke & Gamm (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken
The German duo of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken won 10 of the 13 available doubles gold medals during the 2017/2018 season, and won silver two other times. They’re sliding better than anyone in any discipline, and are far and away favorites to win the gold medal at PyeongChang. Further, they also won the 2017 test event over teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Outside of luge, they’re by far the biggest favorite in any sport going into the Olympics (even ahead of Sungbin Yun in skeleton).
Now here’s who can beat them.
Wendl and Arlt are the defending Olympic champions, and they won two of the three gold medals that Eggert and Benecken did not. On top of that, in both heats in the test event, Wendl and Arlt were fastest at every split except the final one. If Eggert and Benecken do make a mistake, Wendl and Arlt will be there to pounce.
Petr Penz and Georg Fischler of Austria scored seven medals during the World Cup season after a slow start. They also took advantage of a mistake by Eggert and Benecken in the Lillehammer sprint event to be the only non-Germans to win gold. Penz and Fischler, as well as teammates Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, also slid well in the 2017 test event, and should contend for medals.
Americans Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman were edged out of a top six in the test event by Canadians Tristan Walker and Justin Snith. Mortensen and Terdiman have been a little more consistent during the 2017/2018 campaign, but either team could sneak into the medals with a set of consistent runs.
While they haven’t been on the podium much during the 2017/2018 season, Andris and Juris Sics have medals in the last two Olympics, and finished strong on their home ice in Sigulda. That said, they struggled in the test event, finishing 13th.
Luge Team Relay
Defending Olympic Champion: Germany
2017 Test Event Podium: Germany (g) / Austria (s) / Latvia (b)
2017/2018 World Cup Champion: Germany
There’s absolutely no reason Germany shouldn’t win gold in the Team Relay. They’ve dominated the event across the World Cup, winning four of six events in each of the last two seasons, including the 2017 test event in PyeongChang. In all, Germany has won 17 of 24 Team Relays since the 2014 Olympics.
Italy and Russia both won a Team Relay over the course of the past season, though neither team medaled in the PyeongChang test event in 2017. They will be battling with a good number of teams with a shot at medals, including Latvia, the United States, and Canada. Canada has had a great season in the Team Relay, finishing third overall.
PyeongChang 2018 Sliding Sport Schedule
All times are Eastern Standard Time
Sat, Feb. 10: Men’s Singles Runs 1 & 2 – 5:10 AM
Sun, Feb. 11: Men’s Singles Runs 3 & 4 – 6:00 AM (Medals)
Mon, Feb. 12: Women’s Singles Runs 1 & 2 – 5:50 AM
Tue, Feb. 13: Women’s Singles Runs 3 & 4 – 5:30 AM (Medals)
Wed, Feb. 14: Doubles Runs 1 & 2 – 6:20 AM (Medals)
Thu, Feb. 15: Team Relay Competition – 7:30 AM (Medals)
Wed, Feb. 14: Men’s Runs 1 & 2 – 8:00 PM
Thu, Feb. 15: Men’s Runs 3 & 4 – 7:30 PM (Medals)
Fri, Feb. 16: Women’s Runs 1 & 2 – 6:20 AM
Sat, Feb. 17: Women’s Runs 3 & 4 – 6:20 AM (Medals)
Sun, Feb. 18: 2-Man Runs 1 & 2 – 6:05 AM
Mon, Feb. 19: 2-Man Runs 3 & 4 – 6:15 AM (Medals)
Tue, Feb. 20: Women’s Runs 1 & 2 – 6:50 AM
Wed, Feb. 21: Women’s Runs 3 & 4 – 6:40 AM (Medals)
Fri, Feb. 23: 4-Man Runs 1 & 2 – 7:30 PM
Sat, Feb. 24: 4-Man Runs 3 & 4 – 7:30 PM (Medals)