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Austria’s Miriam-Stefanie Kastlunger will have happy memories of the Olympic Sliding Centre in Innsbruck-Igls when she returns there to compete in the FIL World Luge Championships.
Five years ago, Kastlunger starred on her home track during the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games as she won gold in the women’s luge event, kick-starting an international career that has since seen her compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 and reach the podium at both the World Cup and European Championships.
In 2012, Kastlunger was one of the favourites to claim YOG gold in her hometown and had to deal with the high expectations of the Austrian crowd. After the first run, it looked as though the pressure may have been getting to her, as she trailed Germany’s Saskia Langer by 51 thousandths of a second. The then 17-year-old rose to the challenge, however, putting in a sensational second run to record a time of 40.090 seconds to give her a convincing victory, two tenths of a second ahead of Langer.
But while Langer missed out on top spot, her compatriot Christian Paffe cruised to gold in the men’s event – recording the fastest time in both runs to finish ahead of Latvia’s Riks Kristens Rozitis and his Germany team-mate Toni Graefe. Both Paffe and Graefe have since competed at the FIL Nations Cup, while Rozitis has become a regular on the World Cup circuit and is likely to be back in Innsbruck this week for the World Championships.
Also set to compete this week are Florian Gruber and Simon Kainzwaldner, who will be aiming to reproduce the blistering runs that saw them claim YOG doubles gold at the Olympic Sliding Centre in 2012. The Italian duo can regularly be seen training on the Innsbruck track and demonstrated their obvious comfort there during the YOG by sliding to victory over Germany’s Tim Brendl and Florian Funk and US pair Ty Andersen and Pat Edmunds.
Andersen and Edmunds later showcased the rewards for their own hard work on the Innsbruck track, as they joined US team-mates Summer Britcher and Tucker West to claim YOG gold in the first-ever mixed team relay event. The American quartet had spent weeks mastering the relay’s gate system, which requires one racer to slap a lever when they cross the finish line to open their team-mate’s starting gate at the top of the track, and their dedication paid off as they secured gold ahead of the German and Austrian teams.
This week, both Britcher and West will be back in Innsbruck as well, joining several other YOG alumni who can already point to previous success at the Olympic Sliding Centre.