Annual USA Luge Start Competition means racing season is now in sight

When members of the USA Luge national and junior national teams gather each September for the annual start competition, it can only mean that a new racing season is fast approaching.

When members of the USA Luge national and junior national teams gather each September for the annual start competition, it can only mean that a new racing season is fast approaching.

It’s also an indicator for the athletes as to how their conditioning and start training regimens have progressed during the off-season. The answers will come on Friday, Sept. 18, at 6 PM at USA Luge headquarters, 57 Church Street in Lake Placid.

The event is open to the public free of charge, with rides down the ramps as a fundraiser to be offered after the competition.

A number of recent Olympians will be in the competitive field.

Julia Clukey, a 2010 Olympian from Augusta, Maine, is among the world’s quickest from the start handles. She will use that ability to hopefully return to the World Cup podium. Clukey, now in her 18th campaign, achieved a silver medal in February 2013.

"The start competition is a good way to evaluate where I stand physically for the upcoming season," stated Clukey.

"With World Championships in Koenigssee (Germany) this year, the start absolutely makes or breaks a chance for a top performance. With it taking place a few weeks before our on ice training starts, it’s a good transition back into competition mode."

Clukey has a team-high seven indoor start titles in Lake Placid and four international championships, held annually in Meransen, Italy.

Sochi bronze medalist, 2009 World Champion and three-time Olympian Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y. will also be in the lineup.

On the heels of these veterans will be hard-charging Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., and Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn.

Britcher, a member of the 2014 Olympic team, has identified an improving start as the area that can propel her to the World Cup podium. Sweeney is a consistently good starter, who has refined her off-season training the past two years and it has paid dividends. She was just 0.006 behind Clukey in last year’s start event.

Sweeney and Britcher come to this event after their best World Cup seasons.

Up and comer Raychel Germaine of Roswell, Ga., has graduated from the junior ranks. She hopes that a shoulder injury rehabs by September 18.

Sochi Olympian and two-time start champion, Tucker West, who was also the team’s youngest start winner in 2011, is anxious to return to the event after completing another semester at Union College.

"I’m really looking forward to the start comp this year," said West, of Ridgefield, Conn., who won the Lake Placid World Cup race last December. "Last year I had to sit out due to a wrist injury, but as of right now, I’m healthy, and should hopefully be able to compete. The competition will be extremely tough this year. The team is motivated by last season’s successes, and everyone has been working harder than ever. The team, as a whole, is incredibly strong and talented right now, which should lead to some great racing."

West is one of the World Cup circuit’s fastest starters. However, another 2014 Olympian, Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y., has gotten much stronger since the Games, and is ready to usurp West’s position. Kelly’s 2014-2015 season was curtailed by injury.

Riley Stohr, of Whitehall, Mich., will be the top junior in the field, pending his medical clearance following shoulder surgery. Stohr made his World Cup debut in Lake Placid last season, posting an 11th place result.

The doubles division will also be watched closely as USA Luge debuts a pair of new teams that want their place on the national team.

Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. is now teaming with Anthony Espinoza of Park City, Utah. Also, Justin Krewson of Eastport, N.Y. is the front driver for Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa.

Hyrns and Sherk raced together in the run-up to Sochi.

The top doubles team of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa., will be on the sidelines as Mortensen, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, will be in military training at that time.

The start race, on the team’s artificially refrigerated ramps, will come approximately one month from the competitors return to the full length track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, outside Lake Placid.

The Norton National Championships will be held in late October and early November in both Lake Placid and Park City, Utah. The World Cup luge tour opens for the 2015-2016 campaign on Nov. 28-29 in Igls, Austria.

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