Slidin’ home: Returning from Europe, U.S. Natural Track Luge Team to compete at Negaunee’s Lucy Hill this weekend

The U.S. National Team poses after a natural track luge meet in Winterleiten, Austria, in early January 2024. From left are Leonard Pizziola of Ishpeming, Mason Palecek of Oshkosh, Wis., Torrey Cookman of Marquette, Thomas Matthews of Marquette and Katie Cookman of Marquette. Matthews departed Europe in mid-January to return to school, while the others continued to compete in several countries in the Alps well into February. (Photo courtesy Laura Farnsworth)

This weekend: Lugers practice at 3 p.m. today in Negaunee, then compete at 11 a.m. Sunday in the North American Championship


NEGAUNEE — The U.S. Luge National Team, based out of Lucy Hill in Negaunee, wrapped up the Natural Track Luge World Cup season with strong performances in the final two World Cup races held at the Winterleiten in Judenburg, Austria, and gathered points towards the overall season standings.

Siblings Katie and Torrey Cookman of Marquette led the charge with top-20 finishes, solidifying their positions as rising stars in the sport.

With the World Cup races complete, the entire team has come home to the U.S. and will set their sights on the upcoming North American Championship at Lucy Hill at 11 a.m. Sunday. Opening ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. and food and beverage concessions will be available.

Katie Cookman of Marquette slides down a track in the European Alps during the 2024 winter natural luge season. (Photo courtesy @andreas.ebermann.foto)

They aim to leverage the momentum gained in the World Cup circuit and challenge for podium on the challenging U.S. track. Yoopers can come out and cheer for the U.S. Natural Track Luge team in Negaunee as they wrap up the season.

Admission is free to this event plus today’s practice runs at Lucy Hill scheduled for 3 p.m.

In Europe, Katie Cookman, 16, delivered two impressive 10th-place finishes in women’s competition during both the fifth and sixth World Cup races. Her technical prowess and focused runs showcased her ability to compete at the highest level. Over the entire season, she secured a 12th-place ranking.

“The highlight of my season was participating in the team race in the Junior World Championship with Torrey. Being able to compete with my brother and getting fifth place was amazing.”

On the men’s side, Torrey Cookman, 20, displayed improvement from the Saturday to Sunday World Cup races, climbing from 18th place in the fifth World Cup event to 17th in the next one.

Torrey Cookman of Marquette slides down a track in the European Alps during the 2024 winter natural luge season. (Photo courtesy @andreas.ebermann.foto)

His aggressive driving style and technical skills propelled him up the leaderboard, solidifying his 18th place in the overall season standings.

“While being away from home for so long can be hard,” Torrey Cookman said, “the joy from each run I take helps keep me motivated so I continue to improve.”

He notes he really appreciates being able to interact with people from around the world.

“As always there are highlights and great improvements on the track throughout the season, but I think for me, the fun moments that I spent with people from other countries both at the track and at the hotel really stand out to me,” he said.

Wrapping up their first season on the World Cup circuit, teammates Leonard Pizziola, 20, of Ishpeming and Mason Palecek, 16, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, put in solid performances, collecting valuable points throughout the weekend. Pizziola achieved 20th- and 21st-place finishes, while Palecek secured 21st- and 20th-place finishes, respectively.

Pizziola finished his first World Cup season ranked 24th overall and Palecek 21st, demonstrating potential for future growth.

Pizziola highlighted his season-long improvement, watching his race times decrease.

“We raced at Winterleiten at the beginning of the year and end of the year and seeing the improvement of sliding a 1.12 at the beginning of the year and finishing the year at 1.07.”

For Palecek, the Junior World Championship held in Umhausen, Austria, holds a special place in his heart. It was the first time that he “beat an Austrian and broke the 1.20 barrier.”

The entire team expressed their appreciation for the support they receive on both sides of the pond.

“We would like to give a big thank-you to the FIL coaches Jack and Tina, our parents, U.S. coach Keith Whitman and the coaches from other nations that offered guidance and support throughout the season,” said Torrey Cookman, the team captain.

Earlier this winter, the team competed in the second Junior World Cup in Ulten, Italy on Jan. 4-5 and at the World Cup in Laas, Italy, on Jan. 6-7.

Leading the charge for the U.S. team at Ulten were the Cookman siblings. Katie carved her way down the course in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 52.35 seconds for 17th. In men’s competition, Torrey Cookman stormed down the icy track, clocking 2:39.60 and also coming in 17th on his side.


omas Matthews of Marquette navigated the course to a 25th-place finish in 2:26.89, Pizziola was 26th in 2:45.15, and Palecek was 27th in 3:19.80.

“It is an amazing opportunity to be able to represent my country,” Pizziola said, adding that it encourages him to “try my best and work hard during practice for the best possible outcomes during the races.”

At Laas in their first senior World Cup event, every U.S. team member secured a spot in the World Cup finals.

“Our two races this weekend were back to back and we had only two training runs on one of the tracks before racing,” Torrey Cookman said. “Knowing we wouldn’t have training on the tracks, our coaches blocked out time for us to walk the track with the intent to have it memorized before the race.

“Then when it came to racing, we just implemented what we had memorized during the track walks.”

At the Senior World Cup, Katie Cookman continued her impressive run in 10th, with a combined time of 2:20.59, while Torrey Cookman was 19th in 2:16.59.

Palecek said he shifted his focus from speed to perfecting his form.

“I focused more on on form than time because form would be more beneficial to the future,” he said, with it seeming to work as he finished 22nd in 2:21.11.

Matthews, the youngest slider competing in the World Cup race in Laas, continued to improve to 24th place in 2:26.89.

The U.S. racers moved onto Umhausen, Austria, for a World Cup weekend that ended Jan. 21 as they tackled a notoriously difficult track with tight corners and unforgiving terrain, pushing their limits in both the World Cup and Elimimator races.

Katie Cookman defied expectations in women’s competition, coming in 13th against what was described as stiff competition with a combined time of 2:38.73. Then she stormed through the Eliminator brackets, reaching the semifinals to finish seventh.

“It takes a March Madness-style bracket and applies it to luge,” Katie Cookman said. “They are knockout rounds. I feel I could have gone faster, but overall, I was happy with my times. My position is a lot better this year, which allows me to go faster, but I think I can drop my times even more.”

Torrey Cookman battled adversity after encountering an obstacle on the course that damaged his sled’s steel runners. But he managed to salvage the weekend with a 15th-place finish in the World Cup and a 17th-place showing in the Eliminator.

“After a great first training run, my second was rather tragic,” he said. “I ran over some metal or something hard which made an inside burr on my steels. Thankfully, I had a set of training steels that my coach and I turned up and was able to use those for the race.”

Palacek finished 21st in the World Cup and Pizziola 22nd.

Continuing in Austria on Feb. 9-11, the U.S. team put on a stellar performance at the Luge Junior World Championships in Winterleiten.

The Cookmans placed fifth in the team competition, a unique format in which the fastest male and female athletes from each nation makes runs consecutively for a combined time.

“This is the third time I’ve raced with Torrey as a team,” Katie Cookman said. “Being able to compete alongside my brother, someone I’ve always looked up to, is an incredible feeling.

“This race was even more special knowing it was Torrey’s last at the junior level. Finishing fifth together was amazing.”

Katie Cookman also finished ninth in individual competition.

“I’ve raced on this track before, so I felt comfortable and confident,” she said.

Torrey Cookman said he’ll miss Junior-level competition.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet that this was my last Junior race,” he said. “Throughout my time on the Junior circuit I have definitely grown my on-track skills exponentially.”

Palecek, who finished 19th, described the unusual sliding conditions at Winterleiten.

“The track was incredibly soft with puddles and snow, slowing down the sleds significantly. This meant adjusting my strategy, using just one brake instead of the usual six,” he said.

Pizziola rounded out the U.S. delegation with a 20th-place finish.

“I was really nervous about this race more than others. Overall, I was happy with how I finished and how I progressed through the year.”

Vickie Fee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 542. Her email address is vfee@miningjournal.net.


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