Bill and Carrie Britcher talk about their daughter's return to the Olympic luge competition. The York Dispatch
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Barely a tenth of a second separated Summer Britcher from an Olympic medal on Thursday.
The 23-year-old Glen Rock woman was part of the American relay luge team that finished fourth at the 2018 Winter Olympics on the 3,943-foot course at the Alpensia Sliding Center.
Germany won the event in 2 minutes, 24.517 seconds, followed by the silver-medal winning Canadians in 2:24.872, the bronze-medal winning Austrians in 2:24.988 and Britcher's American team in 2:25.091.
“I feel really bad for my teammates, but that’s racing,” Britcher told USA Luge about her team's near miss. “Things happen. You have to risk it to go for that finish that you want.”
The Americans improved on their sixth-place finish in the relay event at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Britcher was joined on the U.S. team by men's singles luger Christopher Mazdzer and the doubles team of Jayson Terdiman and Matthew Mortensen.
"I love my teammates, and I think the important thing that I feel (is) incredibly lucky to be a part of this team and to have them in my life," Britcher said.
For Britcher, Thursday's effort helped ease some of the disappointment from her performance in the women's singles luge competition, when poor first and fourth runs cost her any chance at a medal, despite a record-breaking second run. She eventually finished 19th in women's singles luge on Tuesday.
Britcher had come into the Olympics with medal hopes after finishing third in the overall World Cup women's singles luge standings this season.
It was Britcher's second Olympics. She finished 15th in women's singles luge in 2014 in Sochi.
“This is the greatest part of the sport, in my opinion,” said Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., who is also a two-time Olympian. “We’re a very individualized sport and we get to come together as a team and have that momentum together. It’s amazing. We’re Team USA. We’re very proud of the way we performed. No matter what happened, we all left it out on the ice tonight.”
Geisenberger adds another gold: When the International Olympic Committee added a luge team relay to the program seven years ago, part of the rationalization was that it would provide more medal chances for women.
Natalie Geisenberger and Alex Gough surely approve.
Geisenberger became the first Olympian ever to win four luge gold medals by helping Germany win the team relay in the sport's final event at the Pyeongchang Games. Canada won the silver, giving Gough her second medal in the last three days — which sounds even more remarkable when noting that her country was 0-for-forever in luge before her bronze in the women's race on Tuesday.
Ask anyone in the race, and it will be unanimous: The team relay is a hit.
"It's definitely a spectator favorite," said Canada's Sam Edney, who teamed with Gough and the doubles sled of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith for the first Olympic medal of his career in what will almost certainly be his final slide before retirement. "The athletes love it, the coaches love it, the officials love it."
Austria, with Madeleine Egle, men's gold medalist David Gleirscher and doubles sliders Peter Penz and Georg Fischler was third.
Geisenberger has two singles golds and two relay golds, this one coming with Johannes Ludwig, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Past luge stars such as Germany's Georg Hackl and Italy's Armin Zoeggeler never got the chance to pad their Olympic resumes with a team relay, so there certainly won't be a true consensus in the argument of whether Geisenberger is the best Olympic luger ever.
She doesn't care about such debate, either.
"That's not for me to say," Geisenberger said.
"Something different:" The team relay has been a mainstay on the World Cup circuit for about a decade, but this was only the second time it's been part of the Olympic program. It's another chance at a medal — an obvious plus — but also gives a true team dynamic to an individual sport.
"It's something different that we haven't seen in the sport for a long time and it gave us that little kick," Edney said. "It was a shot of espresso right when we needed it. It really perked the interest."
The format is simple.
The execution isn't always so simple.
There's a men's slider, a women's slider and a doubles duo as part of each team, each of them getting one run down the track. At the finish line, they need to sit up — with the sled still going at basically top speed — and smack a pad that sends up an all-clear signal for the next sled to start making its way down the track (or stop the clock if it's the third sled).
If someone misses the pad, it's like dropping the baton in track and field. Game over.
"It's tough. It takes some serious coordination," Edney said. "It's not easy and that's part of the fun, it throwing in that element. There's a very good chance that someone will miss that pad."
Things can go wrong: That's why the relay always goes down to the absolute final moment. Something often goes wrong. It didn't on this night, at least not for the top contenders, and so Germany reigned supreme again.
"It's a way for this individual sport to have a team element," said Mazdzer, who won a silver in men's singles luge earlier in South Korea.. "And especially when the conditions are tough, when you have a sled in the track for over two minutes with a man, woman and doubles, a lot can go wrong. It is a huge group effort. And chances are, statistically, something weird will happen. That's what makes it exciting."
There were 12 medals handed out in luge at these Olympics, and Germany — not surprisingly — won half of them. Geisenberger now has five Olympic medals, the same number as Hackl. Only Zoeggeler has more, with six.
The Associated Press and USA Luge contributed to this report.