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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Julia Clukey and Chris Mazdzer have their luge seasons off to winning starts.
Clukey won the women's title for the seventh time, Mazdzer took the men's race, and the doubles team of Justin Krewson and Tristan Jeskanen all prevailed Friday night at USA Luge's annual start championships, held on the indoor ramp at the team's training facility.
Clukey beat Emily Sweeney by 0.006 seconds in the two-run competition for her third straight women's crown, with 2014 Olympian Summer Britcher third and Raychel Germaine placing fourth.
"It feels good," said Clukey, a native of Augusta, Maine, who narrowly missed qualifying for the team that competed for the U.S. last winter at the Sochi Games. "Feel pretty ready for the season and excited."
As always is the case with luge, tiny fractions of a second made all the difference. The average margin of victory in Friday's races was less than eight one-thousandths of a second. Starts on the indoor ramp at the team headquarters are usually completed in about 1.5 seconds.
Olympic bronze medalist and former women's world champion Erin Hamlin did not compete because of a previous commitment, USA Luge officials said. Three-time defending men's champion and 2014 Olympian Tucker West also was not entered in Friday's races.
Also missing from the women's event: Sochi Olympian Kate Hansen, who became the first U.S. singles slider in more than 16 years to win a World Cup race when she captured the gold at Sigulda, Latvia last winter. Hansen is not competing this season, opting instead to focus on her studies at BYU.
Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian, topped 2014 Sochi Games competitor Aidan Kelly by 0.009 seconds for his first start title since 2010. Riley Stohr placed third and Joe Mortensen was fourth.
"Overall, Tucker, Aidan and I, we have come together and we are pushing each other," said Mazdzer, a native of Saranac Lake, New York. "So as a whole team, we're definitely going to show up really strong this season."
Mazdzer finished fifth in the World Cup overall standings last season.
In doubles, Krewson and Jeskanen narrowly beat Olympians Jayson Terdiman and Matt Mortensen by 0.008 seconds.
Some U.S. sliders will be in Lillehammer, Norway to begin on-ice training for the season in early October. Ice is expected at the team's home facility in Lake Placid in mid-October, followed by USA Luge's national championships Nov. 1-2.
The World Cup season begins in Austria on Nov. 29, followed by North American stops in Lake Placid and Calgary in December.
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