Whistler's young lugers are in prime position to bring home FIL World Cup titles at the end of the season.
After the first half of the Youth A Men's World Cup took place in North America, including two races at Whistler Sliding Centre in December, the scene shifted to Europe with competition at Oberhof, Germany on Jan. 24 and 25.
In Youth A Doubles, the team of Matt Riddle and Reid Watts took over the lead from Calgary duo Evan Wildman and Heath Karpyshyn, who did not compete in Oberhof. Riddle and Watts now have 270 points to Wildman and Karpyshyn's 240. Nicky Klimchuk-Brown and Lucas Gebauer-Barrett, another local team, remained third with 170 points after not taking part in Germany. Luge Canada spokesman Chris Dornan noted a title isn't a foregone conclusion just yet as Wildman and Karpyshyn are slated to run the final two races.
With 15 pairs, it was the largest field Watts and Riddle had challenged. The German team of Hannes Orlamünder and Paul Constantin Gubitz won the race with a combined time of one minute, 9.554 seconds (1:09.554) to get on the board with their first 100 points of the year. The Russian team of Vsevolod Kashkin and Konstantin Korshunov was second, 0.077 seconds back, to earn 85 points. Riddle and Watts were 0.350 seconds behind the winners.
Watts said the track was challenging in a different way from what he'd faced this year.
"We were starting from a pretty easy start height, so it was really easy to make it down, but to be fast was pretty tricky," Watts said.
Watts explained the first corner made it difficult to generate speed early in the race, but Riddle, noting starts aren't their strength, said the duo makes up for it as they progress down the course.
"Reid and I aren't the quickest off the start. Reid and I are both pretty heavy people. Being able to slide the track itself made it easier because you can have a fast start, but if you can't make it down, your race is over right there," he reasoned.
Competition continues this weekend at Innsbruck-Igls, Austria on Jan. 30 and 31 before wrapping in Winterberg, Germany on Feb. 6 and 7.
Watts said on Jan. 27 that after two days of training, he's enjoying the Igls course.
"This track's a lot of fun," he said. "You don't really have to do anything at all to make it down here. It's a really easy track.
"We're looking to have two clean races, be fast and enjoy it."
Riddle and Watts are the only team to have competed in every doubles race this year, though a disqualification in a race here at Whistler Sliding Centre sliced into their advantage.
Riddle is less concerned with the results, honing in on the process instead.
"All we wanted to accomplish with doubles this year was to get into the flow of it, do it, and make it down different tracks," Riddle said. "If we come home with the title, it's just a bonus."
Shippit holds steady
In the men's singles category, Adam Shippit holds a stouter advantage over his competition. Shippit was seventh in the Oberhof race and boosted himself to a total of 346 points after winning the first three races of the season. American Elijah Pedriani, who placed sixth in the race, gained just four points of ground, but jumped past Riddle into second spot. Pedriani has 231 points and Riddle 229. Squamish's Klimchuk-Brown is fourth with 196 points while Watts has 189.
Like his teammates, Shippit needed to make adjustments to the German track.
"How you move your body was a bit different, and going around the corners, you need to be smoother and faster," he said. "It's hard in its own way because you're not going too fast. It's still really hard to grasp onto the techniques that you need to do to go fast."
Germans took the top four spots overall, with Lukas Geyer coming out on top of the 55-racer field with a two-run time of 1:24.006. Max Langenhan and Tobias Heinze rounded out the local podium sweep. Shippit was 1.202 seconds back. Watts placed 11th, Riddle 14th and Klimchuk-Brown 17th.
Calgarian just off the podium
Calgary's Brooke Apshkrum just missed out on a medal after a fourth-place showing.
Germany's Tina Müller (1:18.644) and Alisa Dengler (1:18.914) took the top two spots while Austria's Hannah Prock (1:19.196) was third. Apshkrum was 0.827 seconds behind Müller.
Apshkrum is fourth overall in the standings with 235 points, 105 back of leader Yulia Naumova of Russia and 13 back of teammate Kyla Graham for third. Graham was 14th at Oberhof.
Whistlerite Veronica Ravenna, who represented Argentina, placed sixth in her first race of the season.
Mount Currie's Jenna Spencer was off the pace, finishing 17th in a 23-woman field in the junior women's event.
Spencer posted a combined time of 1:26.473, which was 1.973 seconds behind winner Jessica Tiebel of Germany.
Teammate Rachel Klassen was 13th with a time of 1:25.791.
Fennell ninth in junior men's
Calgary's John Fennell was the top Canadian in the junior men's category, scoring a ninth-place finish, 1.076 seconds back of winner Sebastien Bley of Germany.
Junior Worlds led into continued World Cup chase
Some of the local Youth A sliders took a step up the week before the Oberhof races, taking part in the Junior World Championship race in Lillehammer, Norway on Jan. 16 and 17.
In the men's category, Shippit placed 12th with a combined 1:40.524, landing him 0.701 seconds behind the champion, Repilov. Klimchuk-Brown was 21st and Watts didn't finish. Fennell placed 10th.
Shippit paid close attention to how the older racers prepared for action, and was pleased to find out there was overlap with his approach. Still, he said it was nerve-wracking hitting the track.
"It was very stressful racing up (a level) because you know these guys are bigger, stronger, older than I am," Shippit said. "I was having a lot of trouble on the track all week, hitting walls and all that. It was a good relief to come in 12th place and have a good grasp on where I'm at in the world."
In the doubles competition, Watts and Riddle were 14th out of 15 sleds after they didn't finish their second run.
Spencer, meanwhile had an encouraging result in Norway, having placed eighth with a time of 1:37.082, landing her 0.449 seconds behind winner Tiebel.
Klassen placed 12th, Graham 19th and Apshkrum 20th.