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Glen Rock's Summer Britcher sees her luge schedule drastically altered by pandemic

STAFF AND WIRE REPORT
Summer Britcher of United States reacts after she placed third of a women's race at the Luge World Cup event in Sigulda, Latvia, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Roman Koksarov)

Glen Rock's Summer Britcher has seen her upcoming luge plans drastically altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

USA Luge announced Monday that its athletes won’t compete in World Cup events until at least January. The Americans will sit out the first four race weekends of this season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Britcher, 26, may be the most recognizable face on the USA Luge team. She owns five individual World Cup career victories, making her the all-time leader in USA Luge singles history. She finished fifth in the final 2019-2020 World Cup women's standings, which was the best performance of any USA Luge member.

The Susquehannock High School graduate competed in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia (finishing 15th in the women's race) and 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea (finishing 19th in the women's race). In the 2018 Games, as a member of the U.S. relay team, Britcher just missed earning a medal when the Americans finished fourth.

Now, Britcher will have to wait at least a couple of months to compete on the international level. The Americans won’t slide in the season opener at Igls, Austria, on Nov. 28 and 29, then will also sit out races the next three weekends on a trio of German tracks – Altenberg, Oberhof and Winterberg.

USA sliders won't compete until 2021: USA Luge’s decision means no American sliders in any sport – luge, bobsled or skeleton – will be sliding in any major international race until at least early 2021. USA Bobsled and Skeleton announced last week that it is skipping the first half of its World Cup season because of travel and health concerns.

“Ever since this pandemic broke, we have maintained a commitment to the safety of everyone in the organization, with the athletes at the top of that list,” USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said. “We are a group that’s geared and motivated by racing, so to take this action is disappointing.”

Led by Britcher, USA Luge won 11 World Cup medals last season. It had nine top-two finishes; only Germany and Russia had more.

Disjointed sliding season: This move only adds to a disjointed sliding season, one in which the world championships for luge were moved out of Whistler, Canada, because of virus concerns, as were the bobsled and skeleton world championships that were to take place in Lake Placid, New York. A luge World Cup was moved out of Lake Placid as well, and Park City, Utah, lost its planned bobsled-skeleton World Cup weekend.

“We believe that staying in the U.S. until the end of the calendar year is our safest course of action,” Leahy said.

Planning to train on home ice: USA Luge said it plans to train on home ice in November and December, with seeding races and the national championships to be decided before the Christmas break. Plans, as of now, have the team flying to Europe in late December.

“This is certainly not the schedule that we envisioned, but it’s one that has been thrust upon us,” USA Luge coach Robert Fegg said.

For now, the Americans plan to compete in the two most significant luge competitions of the season – the world championships in Koenigssee, Germany, at the end of January, and February’s World Cup race and training week at the track newly built in China for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. That will be the Americans’ first look at the next Olympic track.