The new International Luge Federation (FIL) World Cup season is set to get underway in Austria – but no fans will be permitted as racing begins against the backdrop of a global health crisis.
Austria went into its second lockdown earlier this month in a bid to curb rising coronavirus figures.
But the opening leg of the World Cup season has been given the go ahead with athletes having to adhere to strict hygiene measures at the Olympic Sliding Centre in Innsbruck.
The season opener has already been hit by the withdrawal of reigning sprint doubles world champions Vladislav Antonov and Alexander Denisiev.
The Russian duo were set to compete in the men’s doubles, sprint and team relay events at the competition, but have pulled out after Antonov tested positive for coronavirus.
Two-time reigning Olympic champion Natalie Geisenberger marked her return to action with victory in the Nations Cup on the Igls track today as she gears up for the first World Cup race.
Back after her maternity leave following the birth of her first child, Germany’s Geisenberger moved her compatriots Cheyenne Rosenthal and Dajana Eitberger down to second and third place respectively with a winning time of 39.916sec.
Eitberger, who won silver at Pyeongchang 2018, is also set to make her comeback after maternity leave.
Austrian Nico Gleirscher triumphed in the Nations Cup in 50.076, beating fellow countryman Wolfgang Kindl and Latvian Arturs Dārznieks.
After overcoming a leg injury, Thomas Steu teamed up with Lorenz Koller to win the doubles event ahead of fellow Austrian pairing Yannick Müller and Armin Frauscher and Mārtiņš Bots and Roberts Plūme of Latvia.
The competition in Innsbruck is due to begin tomorrow and conclude on November 29.
The new World Cup season will be held almost exclusively in Europe, with no North American legs possible due to the global pandemic.
After Innsbruck, four consecutive legs are scheduled in Germany, in Altenberg, Oberhof, Winterberg and Königssee.
Sigulda in Latvia is then set to host an event before second competitions in Innsbruck and Oberhof.
Königssee is due to stage the World Championships between January 29 and 31, with the World Cup season expected to end on February 20 and 21 - with the season finale originally scheduled to take place in Beijing.
But FIL is looking for an alternative venue for its Luge World Cup final after postponing the event in China.