Emily Sweeney of the United States hits the wall Saturday after racing to a third-place finish during a World Cup women's luge event in Whistler, British Columbia. Credit: Darryl Dyck | The Canadian Press via AP

Portland native and 2018 U.S. Olympian Emily Sweeney captured the bronze medal in the World Cup women’s luge event Saturday in Whistler, British Columbia.

In her first event since crashing in her final Olympic run last Feb. 13 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sweeney temporarily set the track record at Whistler and put her in position to secure USA Luge’s first World Cup medal of the season and marked her first victory since a World Cup sprint race last winter in Winterberg, Germany.

“I was pretty happy with the runs that I had,” the 25-year-old Sweeney said in a post-race interview with USA Luge. “To end up on the podium was fantastic.

“I felt my first run wouldn’t hold for a track record, but I thought it was good enough for a top five, and I ended up in third.”

Sweeney, who attended schools in Falmouth before moving to her current home in Suffield, Connecticut, had captured the Nations Cup qualifying race Thursday night before trailing only Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger and Julia Taubitz in Saturday’s race.

Geisenberger, a two-time Olympic champion, set both the start and track records at Whistler with her second run en route to gold at Whistler. She completed her two runs in a combined 1 minute, 16.904 seconds to defeat Taubitz by nearly 0.3 of a second.

Sweeney had a combined 1:17.321 in a performance that enabled her to retain USA Luge “A” team status.

“This was a huge relief to me, but before this week I could not have seen myself on that podium, she said.

Sweeney’s crash on her final Olympic run last winter saw her feet hit the roof, deflecting her head-first into the bottom of the curve.

She got up and made her way to the media mix zone with no assistance to let fans know she was fine, but follow-up medical exams in the U.S. forced a slow-down of her summer preparation. It was only as fall drew closer that Sweeney began to ramp up her training.

“I had a big grind this summer,” she said. “It was so challenging for me both mentally and physically, so to have a result like this in my first race back was pretty crazy.”

While the rest of the U.S. team went to Europe in November, Sweeney opted to train in Park City, Utah, and Calgary, Alberta, with the U.S. junior national team as well as in Whistler.

The juniors then departed for their Junior World Cup opener in Park City, while Sweeney spent Thanksgiving at Whistler and awaited the arrival of her teammates from Innsbruck, Austria.

“I saw in the training times this week that I was going pretty fast,” Sweeney said. “That was unexpected. It’s like a switch went off. When I was training with the juniors, I was still trying to do my best but I wasn’t as competitive as I was [Saturday]. When the [national] team showed up and I was welcomed back into Team USA with our group again, I definitely went to another level in my own sliding. I rose to the occasion.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...