USA LUGE: Clukey leads all Americans in 7th place; World Championships next
Sandy Caligiore
(518) 523-2071
January 20, 2013 10:51 AM
AP IMAGES AVAILABLE:
Julia Clukey: AP Image # 95814711088
Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall: AP Image 842177164337
 
WINTERBERG, Germany – With a seventh place finish in Sunday’s World Cup luge singles race in Winterberg, Germany, Julia Clukey continued her comeback story from Arnold-Chiari Syndrome and knee problems.

“This was a good result for me,” said Clukey. “It was not the best week of training. I had issues in the top and middle sections of the track. But I’m glad I saved my best for race day which is always a good thing.”

She had her two fastest starts of the week in the race.

Earlier in the day, United States doubles teams took 11th and 16th places as the seventh of nine World Cup weekends came to an end.

Two years ago, Clukey had eight millimeters of bone shaved from the base of her skull to relieve headaches and chronic fatigue. It is the same surgery that was performed on PGA Tour player J.B. Holmes.

The symptoms rendered the Augusta, Maine luger unable to cope with the stresses that the G forces in luge place on the head and neck. The knee was another story. But Clukey, with guidance from Lake Placid Sports Medicine and Dr. Eugene Byrne, plotted her return, starting from a point of physical weakness. Workouts were cut short. On-ice training runs were canceled. For a while, the picture was bleak.

Then the improvements from the skull procedure started to take effect, thus putting the key elements of training, and the belief and the possible comeback in place.

“The biggest difference is training healthy and sliding healthy,” continued Clukey. “I’m not wasting any energy. I’m able to focus all my energy on my sliding. It’s been important to show up every day healthy.

“I feel really good this year. I trained hard all summer to get ready for this season.” Clukey is also benefitting from her surroundings.

“The atmosphere on the team is really great. The coaches are working really well together. I know on race day we’re ready, and my job is to get to the bottom of the hill. It’s nice to be able to focus on just that.”

Now the 2010 Olympian has no concerns over her past ailments, stating on numerous occasions that they are no longer part of her psyche.

“It was a struggle prior to my surgery. And even when I was sliding I was not feeling well. It’s tough to race when you’re not feeling well and you’re trying to fight for hundredths and thousandths of seconds. It’s important to have a clear mind and be able to focus on the task at hand. That’s what I’ve been able to do this season.”

Her fixation now is on the vaunted German women’s team that stands between her and the podium.

Sunday was no different. On a cold day with temperatures in the middle teens and light snow falling in this winter sports tourism mecca, Natalie Geisenberger blasted past her teammate Anke Wischnewski and won her fifth event of season in come-from-behind fashion. Geisenberger led a 1-4 finish for the home team. It was her third straight World Cup gold medal. The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist also has two silvers this year.
Geisenberger’s runs of 56.485 and 56.431 seconds totaled one minute, 52.916 seconds. That was 0.02 of a second better than Wischnewski’s 1:52.936.

Vancouver Olympic champion Tatyana Huefner, battling recent back problems, was third in 1:53.002. The top three were separated by only 0.08 of a second.

Clukey was 0.43 from Geisenberger, who has a dominating lead with only two races remaining on the World Cup schedule next month.

The German is atop the overall World Cup rankings with 670 points and will go to the World Championships as the prohibitive women’s favorite. Wischnewski is second at 525, with Huefner next at 415. Clukey is eighth with 271, trailing seventh place teammate Erin Hamlin by only a point.

Hamlin, the long-time leader of the U.S. squad, was in the top 10 of the opening leg Sunday until a driving error as she concluded the run dropped her to 20th place. She staged a second heat rally and wound up 15th in 1:54.560.

“Far less than (the) ideal way to end my European season. (I) couldn’t be happier to head back to North America,” tweeted Hamlin. The 2009 World Champion was referencing the upcoming World Championships in Canada, to be followed by a World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y. a week later.

Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., crowned 2013 World Junior Champion just a few days ago in Park City, Utah, is 22nd with 128 points. Sweeney has missed the last two events due to Junior World Championship preparation.

Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif., the 2008 World Junior Champion, did not qualify for the Winterberg race. She is 25th on the season with 111 points.

American doubles were led by Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah, in 11th place. The duo had fast starts in both heats but could not sustain the momentum. With a time of 1:27.858, they were almost a second from the winners, Andreas and Wolfgang Linger of Austria.

Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., in their first full season at the World Cup level after excellent junior careers, were 1.3 seconds from the Lingers in 16th place. Their time was 1:28.195.

In six previous races, the Linger brothers did no better than a bronze medal. Given their resume, which includes two Olympic gold medals and three World Championships, this came as a surprise. But on Sunday, as they watched World Cup leaders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, of Germany, make uncharacteristic errors in the first heat plunging them to 17th place, the Austrians put down two consistent runs and took the gold medal.

Wendl and Arlt, who won the first five events of 2012-2013, rebounded with a track record second heat and improved to eighth place, retaining their overall tour lead with 627 points.

The Lingers had runs of 43.522 and 43.356 for a combined 1:26.878. The gold medal boosts them into third place overall with 441 points, just one point ahead of teammates Peter Penz and Georg Fischler who did not start Sunday. Fischer was detected with high blood pressure. 

 
Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, of Germany, who are now regulars on the World Cup podium, had the opening heat lead before the Lingers jumped ahead at the end. They clocked 1:26.907 and sit in second place overall with 552 World Cup points on the strength of one victory and four silver medals.

Italian sleds took places 3-4 with Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber scooping up the bronze medal in 1:27.099 for their second top three finish of the season.

Mortensen and Griffall are 12th with 215 points, while Hyrns and Sherk rank 13th with 180.

With the circuit now leaving Western Europe until next season, the world’s elite lugers are packing their bags for the long flight to Vancouver, B.C., Canada followed by the two and half hour drive up the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler and the World Championships, Feb. 1-2, at the 2010 Olympic site. Thereafter, the tour comes to Lake Placid on Feb. 8-9 for the first time since the 2009 World Championships.

International Training Week at Whistler begins Jan. 23, followed by official race training starting Jan. 29.

The United States will finalize and announce its World Championship roster on Monday.
 
Complete women’s results: http://usaluge.org/team/WC71213W.pdf
Complete doubles results: http://usaluge.org/team/WC71213D.pdf
Complete Julia Clukey interview: http://www.usaluge.org/team/JCWC71213.mp3
Complete Mark Grimmette interview (US Sport Program Director): http://www.usaluge.org/team/MarkWC71213.mp3


QUICK RESULTS:

Women:
1)      Geisenberger, Germany, 1:52.916; 2) Wischnewski, Germany, 1:52.936; 3) Huefner, Germany, 1:53.002; 7) Clukey, USA, 1:53.350; 15) Hamlin, USA, 1:54.560
 
Doubles:
1)      Linger-Linger, Austria, 1:26.878; 2) Eggert-Benecken, Germany, 1:26.907; 3) Oberstolz-Gruber, Italy, 1:27.099; 11) Mortensen-Griffall, USA, 1:27.858; 16) Hyrns-Sherk, USA, 1:28.195

For more information on the Fastest Sport on Ice®, log on to www.usaluge.org

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Luge