Americans hoping to upset German's luge dynasty
German (and German-speaking) athletes have long-dominated the sport of luge, leaving little room for outsiders to contend for Olympic titles. All but one of the luge gold medals awarded since the sport made its Olympic debut in 1964 have been won by athletes from either Germany, Austria, or the South Tyrol region of Italy, where German is the dominant language. The U.S. has won four total medals (two silver and two bronze won in doubles in 1998 and 2002) but has not reached the podium in either men’s or women’s singles at the Olympics. The Americans have better odds in the team relay, an event making its Olympic debut at the Sochi Games, which allows each nation to enter only one team that is composed of one man, one woman, and one doubles team. The team relay is timed using a continuous clock and competitors hit a pad at the finish line that opens the gate at the top of the track for their nation’s next slider.
At 2013 Worlds, held on the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, all four events were won by athletes from Germany. The men’s champion, Felix Loch, won the title for the fourth time and in Sochi, he’ll attempt to defend his Olympic gold. The women’s winner was Vancouver bronze medalist Natalie Geisenberger, who took her first singles title at the event. The doubles teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, known as “the Tobis,” also won their first world title last year. All of these athletes train with the same team in Berchtesgaden, which is the birthplace of luge legend Georg Hackl, who was the first Olympian — summer or winter — to win five medals in the same individual event.
Hackl’s mark could be surpassed in Sochi by Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler, who won his fifth luge men’s singles medal (bronze) in Vancouver. The Italian sat out 2013 Worlds, but he returned to form for the final World Cup of the season on the tricky Sochi track, where he placed fourth. Zoeggeler, who turns 40 a month before Opening Ceremony, will be one of the oldest competitors in the men’s event, along with Russia’s Albert Demtschenko, who will be 42 as he makes his seventh Olympic appearance in Sochi. Demtschenko — a silver medalist in Torino —finished second at the Sochi World Cup and is hoping his daughter, Victoria, joins him at the Sochi Games, where she would compete in the luge women’s singles competition.
Germany’s other medal contenders include Vancouver silver medalist David Moeller on the men’s side and reigning Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner in women’s singles. The Germans are perhaps most dominant in women’s singles, in which they’ve won all four golds and 10 of 12 medals awarded since 1998. The two interlopers have been Austrian, with Nina Reithmayer winning silver most recently in 2010. Reithmayer is currently attempting to come back from an ankle injury and hasn’t posted a top-five finish at Worlds since 2011. Right now, the best contender to prevent a German podium sweep in women’s singles is Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova, who placed fourth at the Sochi World Cup and will have home track advantage at the Games.
The doubles competition is more uncertain. While Austria’s Andreas and Wolfgang Linger won gold at the past two Olympics, fellow Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler surpassed their countrymen in the 2012-13 World Cup standings, finishing in third place, one spot ahead of the Linger brothers. Still, Germany will likely send two medal-contending doubles teams to the Sochi Games, with the “Tobis” joined by Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, who finished second in the World Cup standings last season.
The U.S. team will include 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin, who will be making her third Olympic appearance in Sochi. She finished seventh in the 2012-13 World Cup standings, one place behind teammate Julia Clukey, who was making her return to the sport after having surgery. One month after finishing 17th at the Vancouver Games, Clukeywas diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari Syndrome, a malformation of the brain. She took the 2011-12 season off after her March 2011 surgery, during which doctors shaved two millimeters off the base of her skull. Clukey’s comeback season included her first World Cup podium on the Lake Placid track in February 2013. In men’s singles, American Chris Mazdzer posted a personal best sixth-place finish at 2013 Worlds, where he was one of only two non-Germans in the top six (the other was Canada’s Sam Edney). The top U.S. doubles team of Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall finished 10th in the 2012-13 World Cup standings.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Luge lookback: Germans dominate in Vancouver
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