The U.S. has pulled its entire team out of this weekend’s series of World Cup luge races in Winterberg, Germany, while athletes from many nations are protesting what they are calling unsafe ice conditions.
Austria has also withdrawn its entire team from the weekend events and even several sliders from Germany — on home ice, no less — have said they are not willing to race this weekend. The International Luge Federation offered a compromise of sorts Friday by saying it would shorten the race distance, but even that did not solve the intense disagreement between sliders and officials over the safety issue.
“Based on the feedback from our athletes and coaches, we will not participate in the Winterberg World Cup,” USA Luge said in a statement Friday. “We respect their opinions that conditions are not safe. The entire Austrian team has walked away, as well as some Germans and Russians, including Olympic medallists and World Cup leaders, who are also not racing.”
Canada wasn’t scheduled to send any competitors to the Winterberg event.
“Since we have a young development team this year, we ended our competitive season before world championships to do extra training in Konigssee and Whistler so we weren’t at world championships last week in Russia nor [are] we in Winterberg and didn’t have plans to be there anyhow,” spokesman Chris Dornan told CBC Sports on behalf of Luge Canada.
Sliders from many nations have said there is too much ice buildup on certain curves, which significantly increases the chance of crashing.
Course marred by crashes
Training this weekend in Winterberg has been marred by several crashes and even some injuries to top sliders. The German doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt — one of the best and most accomplished teams in the history of the sport — wrote on their shared Facebook page that the risk of crashing was “extremely high and therefore incalculable.”
“Not only are track conditions less than ideal but this was brought to the attention of the FIL and yet again we were told that everything is OK,” said USA Luge veteran Chris Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic men’s silver medallist . “It is always OK. For the last 15 years everything has been OK. … Everything is not OK.”
All three of the top German doubles sleds have said they will not compete this weekend. The entire Austrian luge team, including Olympic men’s champion David Gleirscher, said Thursday that it was going home. Top Russian men’s slider Roman Repilov also was considering skipping this weekend.
Gleirscher crashed during a training run, and his mind was made up right there.
“I was lucky in my training crash and don’t want to take the risk a second time,” Gleirscher said.
Mazdzer was planning to skip at least one of his two races this weekend before the American federation decided to pull out en masse.
“We are racing drivers, want to compete with others at the highest level and love this thrill,” German doubles team Robin Johannes Geueke and David Gamm wrote on their Instagram page, explaining why they pulled out of a World Cup on their home track. “But as much as we were looking forward to it here, we have to decide just as sensibly that health is not only in the foreground and not only of us but of all other athletes.”
Impact on standings
The de facto boycott by some athletes will impact who winds up winning the season World Cup men’s, women’s and doubles championships. Winterberg is the next-to-last race on the World Cup schedule, followed by the finale next weekend in Konigssee, Germany.
Repilov leads the men’s standings by 61 points over Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller. Tatiana Ivanova of Russia leads Germany’s Julia Taubitz by 12 points in the women’s race. Germany’s Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken lead Wendl and Arlt by 10 points in the race for the doubles title.
With 100 points awarded for a win, the standings could have shifted wildly this weekend.
“In our eyes, the track is not suitable,” Austria coach Rene Friedl said.
Nation’s Cup races, which are qualifying races for the World Cup, were held Friday. Only five doubles sleds competed, compared to 15 that were in the Nation’s Cup doubles race at the most recent World Cup earlier this month.