PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — For Julia Clukey, four years of work came down to 0.013 seconds.
And that tiny fleck of time was all it took for her Olympic hopes to be derailed.
Summer Britcher locked up the third and final spot on the women’s team that USA Luge will be sending to the Sochi Olympics, when Clukey finished about one-eightieth of a second away from the fifth-place finish she needed Friday to earn her trip to the biggest stage in sliding.
If Clukey finished fifth in Friday’s World Cup race at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic track, she would have been bound for Sochi. Instead, Britcher wrapped up her trip with a ninth-place finish.
“I think this is going to be the best experience of my life,” Britcher said.
Clukey, on her Facebook page, wrote “I am heartbroken now … but I know I will get through this a stronger person.”
The Britcher-Clukey chase for the final women’s spot was the most dramatic of many developments for USA Luge on Friday, a day where the team’s Sochi roster took serious shape.
The doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman were 11th in the World Cup race Friday, a nondescript result nearly a full second away from the winning time. But they won the race that mattered most, prevailing in a raceoff over fellow Americans Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk to capture the second and final doubles spot allocated to USA Luge for the Olympics.
Only two spots were formally clinched before Friday. Barring any appeals or protests, only two spots on the 10-person team were left unclaimed by the end of the day, with Kate Hansen and Britcher locking up women’s berths to join Erin Hamlin on that squad, and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall also punching their ticket, USA Luge said.
The full roster will be unveiled at the conclusion of the racing in Park City. Chris Mazdzer has a men’s berth locked up; the two other spots on that team are all left undecided entering Saturday’s World Cup men’s race.
“Obviously, it’s an amazing feeling,” Griffall said. “When Matt and I decided to slide together seven years ago, almost eight years ago now, this is what our goal in mind was, to make it to the Olympics.”
In the women’s race, Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger continued her undefeated World Cup season, improving to 5-for-5 with an easy win. Geisenberger finished two runs at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic track in 1 minute, 27.628 seconds.
Anke Wischnewski of Germany was second, 0.193 seconds back. Alex Gough of Canada took third, 0.261 seconds behind Geisenberger.
All four U.S. women placed in the top nine, led by Hansen, fourth in 1:27.929. Clukey was sixth, Hamlin finished eighth and Britcher placed ninth. Hansen was second after the first heat, then faltered a bit to miss a medal.
Still, now she gets a chance to race for an Olympic medal instead.
“I have no thoughts. I have no feelings,” said Hansen, who has been racing with a broken foot. “It’s been a long two months and I am just grateful to come out in one piece.”
She’s probably grateful that her spot wasn’t decided by a sliver of time, either.
That 0.013-second margin was all that separated Clukey from fifth. And if Britcher finished 10th, there would have almost certainly been a race-off for the final women’s spot. She avoided finishing in that position by 0.112 seconds.
So by almost imperceptible differences, Britcher got the third women’s Olympic nod.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like,” Britcher said.
In the doubles World Cup race, the German team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt prevailed for their fourth win of the season.