Tucker West, Julia Clukey win
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Tucker West won his third consecutive men's title and Olympic hopeful Julia Clukey won the women's crown for the second straight year at the USA Luge start championships on Friday night.
Tyler Andersen and Anthony Espinoza prevailed in the doubles competition. The start championships are held on the indoor ramps at USA Luge's headquarters, and serve as the unoffical start to the sliding season that culminates in February at the Sochi Olympics.
Some of USA Luge's athletes will start on-ice training in Norway later this month, and the track at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid is scheduled to open for luge, bobsled and skeleton training on Oct. 1.
Former world champion Erin Hamlin was a strong second in the women's race, finishing in 3.05 seconds, with Clukey holding her off by posting a two-run time of 3.025 seconds. Hamlin finished third at the start championships in each of the previous four seasons.
Kate Hansen and Emily Sweeney tied for third in the women's race, both finishing in 3.068 seconds. Clukey, Hamlin, Hansen and Sweeney are the leading candidates to take the three spots the U.S. expects to have in women's luge at the Sochi Games.
In the men's race, West posted the fastest time in both heats, finishing in a combined 2.799 seconds. Chris Mazdzer (2.845) was second, Aidan Kelly (2.879) was third and Joe Mortensen (2.915) was fourth.
"I've been working hard," West said. "Nice to see that pay off."
Luge's relatively new relay-start system, which brings reaction time into play, factored into the event. The first run was done under the traditional starting format, and the second one was relay-style, where a single beep told sliders to get ready, a double beep told them to get set, and from there the gates can open at any time.
"The first run I was just working on power," West said. "The second run I just have to work on being quick."
In doubles, Andersen and Espinoza may have pulled off a bit of a surprise by winning with a two-run time of 2.846 seconds, 0.036 seconds better than the veteran team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman.
"It makes us very confident," Espinoza said. "We were kind of skeptical for a while about how our starts had come together. We weren't actually sure how this race was going to go. It's a big confidence boost."
Jacob Hyrns and Andrew Sherk (2.931) were third, and Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall (2.998) took fourth.