Whoosh! After staying home for the first half of the season because of pandemic issues, the race is on for some luge, bobsled, and skeleton athletes. Many U.S. sliders have rejoined the international World Cup sliding circuits. For them, it’s all downhill from here—they hope.
Last Friday marked the first day of actual international competition for American sliders this season. USA Luge took part in a Nation’s Cup race in Königssee, Germany.
USA Luge athletes and coaches all had to get three negative COVID-19 tests in a three-day span before rejoining the circuit. The International Luge Federation has been able to pull off four race weekends already this season without any major virus issues.
“I am so happy to be back in the World Cup,” says USA Luge’s Summer Britcher, who was third in the women’s Nation Cup race Friday. Britcher was also the top-ranked American in last season’s World Cup standings.
There are some exceptions: Most athletes and coaches who are members of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) will not be with their teams for the rest of the season. That list includes USA Bobsled coach Mike Kohn. He won’t be trackside because the Army isn’t letting soldiers in that program compete yet. Army officials cite concerns about the rising numbers of positive COVID-19 cases both in the United States and around the world.
The U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams flew over, planning to rejoin the World Cup circuit in Winterberg, Germany, on January 9 and 10. Kohn, along with a handful of other coaches and USA Bobsled and Skeleton athletes, remain home to comply with the WCAP safety mandates.
Brian Shimer will serve as the on-site head coach for bobsled. Kohn will remain involved from his home in Lake Placid, New York. A bright side for him: This will be the first time that he’s home for the birthdays of his wife and their two sons. He usually misses those because they all occur during sliding season.
Many of the top U.S. sliders are now in Europe. That list includes reigning women’s bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries, three-time Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, 2018 Olympic men’s luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, and women’s luge world championship medalist Emily Sweeney. Lolo Jones, a three-time Olympian—two in track and field, one in bobsled—is seeking to make the 2022 Olympic team as a push athlete.
It is possible that more Americans could head to Europe for racing before the season ends. WCAP officials are monitoring the COVID-19 numbers and how the sliding sports are combating the virus regularly. They will reevaluate as needed.
USA Luge could compete in six events over the next six weekends, including the world championships in Königssee at the end of January. USA Bobsled and Skeleton could be in as many as five competitions, ending with the world championships for those sports in Altenberg, Germany, during the first two weeks of February.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. — 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
(Summer Britcher of the United States prepares to compete at the Luge World Cup in Sochi, Russia, in this 2019 photo. January 1, 2021, marked the first day of international competition for American sliders this season. AP/Ekaterina Lyzlova)