SIGULDA, Latvia — Sigulda played host to lugers from around Europe this weekend who, came to compete in the 42nd FIL European Luge Championships.
Fine clear weather greeted the athletes, with clear skies seeing the temperature plummet well below -20°C. The cool conditions accounted for small crowds turning out for the action on both days. Those who did turn out were delivered a treat, with the cold conditions assisting in creating one of the smoothest fastest tracks to date this season. This also saw a number of track records fall as the weekend progressed.
After a week of qualifying matches, the competition proper began on Saturday with the women’s competition. The final placings were given on the combined total time of the competitors two runs. In an effort to give the event more glamor, international competitors were also welcome to compete, with medals given for the top three Europeans and also the top three overall, but only one person from outside Europe, Australian Hannah Campbell-Begg took up the opportunity.
Russians, Germans and Austrians dominated the event, claiming seven of the top 10 spots. Russian Tatiana Ivanova claimed first, setting a new track record (42.679 seconds) on her way to recording a combined total time of 1:25.517. German Corrinna Martini (1:25.842) came in second while Austrian Nina Reith Mayer (1:26.007) rounded out the top three. Local supporters could not quite help their local heroes onto the podium with Anna Orlova and Maija Tiruma taking out sixth and seventh spots.
Saturday’s second event was the men’s doubles, which was dominated by Austrians. The Linger brothers Wolfgang and Andreas held out the field to finish in first spot (1:24.415). Germans Tobias Wendl and Tobias Artl claimed second (1:24.977) whilst Austria’s second pairing of Tobias Schiegl and Markus Schiegl finished in third (1:25.023). Best of the Latvians were the Sics brothers, Andris and Juris who just missed out on a podium spot, finishing in fourth (1:25.106)
Sunday began with the men attacking the run early morning. Many of the local hopes were with Inars Kivlenieks who had set a track record (48.548) in practice but come Sunday it was fellow Latvian Mārtiņš Rubenis upstaging him, finishing his first run in sixth place. It was Russian Albert Demchenko who was leading the way, beating Kivlenieks’ track record to set a blistering first-run time of 48.282 seconds.
On his second run Rubenis was able to slightly improve to move into fourth spot overall with a combined run total of 1 minute 37.104. The top three remained unchanged with Demchenko (1:36.78) taking first place from Austrian Wolfgang Kindl (1:36.974) and his fellow countryman Daniel Pfister (1:37.062) who rounded out the top three. Latvian Guntis Rēķins was the second Latvian home in tenth whilst Kivlenieks followed in eleventh.
Competition finished on Sunday afternoon with the team relay. Each relay team consisted of one run from an individual woman, an individual man and then a men’s doubles pairing from each country. After coming agonizingly close to a podium finish in the two previous events, local fans finally had something to cheer about with the Latvian team (Orlova, Rubenis and the Sics brothers) claiming gold for Latvia with a combined total time of 2:16.992. Austria and Germany completed the podium.
Overall victory by country went to Russia who finished the weekend with two golds. Austria claimed second with a gold, a silver and two bronzes whilst Latvia’s gold in the team relay was enough to see them finish the event in third place.
A glaring absence from the weekend were the Italians, with most of their top athletes opting not to compete, instead taking the weekend off in the build-up to the Olympics. From those that did make the trip to Sigulda, the reviews were positive. Tobias Wendl of the German team had enjoyed his time in Latvia, revelling in the cold conditions which had assisted in his second placing in the men’s doubles.
“The cold conditions make for perfect racing. We are a winter sport in which we need to go fast so we have to learn to enjoy conditions like this. The cold has made for an extremely quick track and very high corners,” Wendl told Baltic Reports.
He was also complimentary in his comments regarding his hosts, saying that the people of Sigulda were extremely welcoming to the sledders. One of the Russian competitors was less complimentary of the weather, finding the going difficult in the frigid conditions but shared Wendls’ thoughts on his evaluation of the Latvian hosts.