West, Britcher, Hyrns-Espinoza win USA Luge start titles

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) Tucker West took the men's crown, Summer Britcher claimed the women's title and the doubles team of Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza also won Thursday at USA Luge's annual indoor start championships.

West won for the fifth time. Britcher and the Hyrns-Espinoza team both finished second last year in the preseason event held on the refrigerated ramps at USA Luge's headquarters.

''Hopefully this will transfer over to the real track, into the season, and I'll be able to take this speed and get faster down times,'' West said.

Former Canadian national team slider John Fennell, now racing for the U.S., was second and doubles racer Matt Mortensen took third in the men's event.

''This morning it was a weird feeling. Everything really sunk in that I was competing for the U.S.,'' Fennell said. ''This is the first step going into fall trials and it was a surreal moment, the fact that I was competing not for Canada but the U.S. now.''

Britcher nearly broke the track record held by eight-time start champion Julia Clukey, who retired this summer. Olympic bronze medalist and former world champion Erin Hamlin was second, and junior national team member Grace Weinberg was third.

''I definitely looked forward to the start competition this year,'' Britcher said. ''We really re-vamped our start training this year to have more of an emphasis on stronger coaching, and focusing more on combining the amount of reps we do with our weightlifting. I was anxious to see how that would show in a competition setting.''

Hyrns and Espinoza had the fastest two heats in the doubles event. Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman - who were fifth in the overall World Cup standings last winter - were second, and 2015 start champions Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk were third.

There were a number of key athletes who missed the start championships for a variety of reasons.

Two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer was at an International Luge Federation meeting in Moscow, part of his requirements as a member of the group's executive board. Aidan Kelly (back) and Riley Stohr (shoulder) also missed the men's event with injuries. On the women's side, World Cup veteran Emily Sweeney (wrist) and Raychel Germaine (shoulder) were out while both continue recovering.

National team members are expected to begin training in Norway in a couple of weeks, then return to Lake Placid for on-ice training in mid-October.

The event was originally scheduled for Friday night, but was moved up because several members of USA Luge's national staff will travel to Delaware for Friday's funeral of three-time Olympian Frank Masley .