Luge still planning a full World Cup season, despite virus

<p>
              FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2019, file photo, United States's Chris Mazdzer speeds down the course during his first run at the men's luge World Cup race in Igls, Austria. The International Luge Federation is still planning for a full 10-race international season this fall and winter, though has yet to say what protocols will be added to deal with the coronavirus. “I really think it’s going to come down to just creating a safe environment, having people be comfortable and taking the right safety precautions,” said Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, the longtime USA Luge slider and the athletes’ representative on the FIL Executive Board.  (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson, File)
            </p>

The International Luge Federation is still planning for a full 10-race international season this fall and winter, though it has yet to say what protocols will be added to deal with the coronavirus.

The FIL released a slightly updated plan for the season Thursday, with no changes to the previously announced schedule and locations. Races will be held in seven different countries, including a World Cup stop in Lake Placid, New York, on Jan. 23 and 24 hosted by USA Luge and the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

“ORDA feels they’ll be well-prepared for our World Cup here in January,” USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said Thursday. “They’ll have enough information to protect the athletes.”

Thursday’s schedule announcement was largely about detailing which cities will host sprint races and team relays as part of the World Cup stop.

The season will begin as usual at Innsbruck, Austria on Nov. 28 and 29, followed by races the next three weekends in German cities — Altenberg, Oberhof and Winterberg. After a Christmas and New Year’s break, the tour resumes Jan. 9 and 10 in Sigulda, Latvia, then the following weekend in Konigssee, Germany and then the race in Lake Placid.

From there, Whistler, British Columbia will play host to the world championships. The weekend of Feb. 20 and 21 sees athletes visit the newly built Chinese track near Beijing — the site of the 2022 Olympics — followed by the season finale on the 2018 Olympic track in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I really think it’s going to come down to just creating a safe environment, having people be comfortable and taking the right safety precautions,” said Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, the longtime USA Luge slider and the athletes’ representative on the FIL Executive Board. “It’s not going to be an easy task … but it’s kind of the reality that we’re facing right now.”

Travel restrictions are likely going to be in place, and the FIL is weighing many options to protect athletes — including, Leahy said, the possibility of having races without fans. It’s all with the primary goal, he said, of getting through all 10 race weeks safely.

“Next season is important because it’s the start of Olympic qualification for a number of teams,” Leahy said.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is also working through several different scenarios for next season, one that has Lake Placid set to host the world championships over the first two weeks of February. For now, the IBSF schedule remains unchanged with nine events still set to take place in six different countries — including China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated.

In January, plans to have athletes from all three sliding sports visit the new track at Yanging, China in March for the facility’s homologation — a certification process that must take place before a new track can play host to races — were canceled, and that was when the virus was being blamed for only about 170 deaths. The virus has now been the cause of more than 484,000 deaths globally, according to data collected by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The homologation has since been rescheduled for this fall, though it remains uncertain which athletes will take part. Typically, such a process involves athletes from virtually every country that has sliding federations taking test runs to confirm a track’s safety.