Luge Olympic History: When did the luge become an Olympic event?
1964 Innsbruck: Luge makes its Olympic debut. The inaugural competition comprises three events: men’s singles, women’s singles, and doubles. The same events have appeared in every subsequent Games, with a fourth event — the team relay — added to the program in 2014. Two weeks before the competition, Polish-born British luger, Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypecki careened off the Olympic course in Igls and was killed. Luge had never been included in the Olympic program until 1964 because it was deemed too dangerous, and Kay-Skrzypecki’s death did little to dissuade those fears.
1968 Grenoble: East German women go 1-2-4 led by defending champion Ortrun Enderlein, but all three women are ejected for illegally heating their runners. The third-fastest woman, Italy’s Erika Lechner, is thus awarded the gold. All three men’s medalists also win medals in doubles. The singles competitions conclude after three runs due to bad weather.
1972 Sapporo: After a start-gate problem forces the first run of doubles to be thrown out and rerun, the only tie in Olympic luge history takes place when Italy’s Paul Hildgartner and Walter Plaikner match the gold-medal time of East Germany’s Horst Hoernlein and Richard Bredow. The Italians had won the discarded run and argue that it should be counted since the start gate problem had affected everyone, but their protest is rejected. To avoid such troublesome ties in the future, luge will be timed to the thousandth of a second at subsequent Games. The women’s champion, East Germany’s Anna-Maria Mueller, is one of the three women who had been disqualified in 1968 (after placing second). In all, East Germany wins eight of the nine luge medals at the Games – all but the gold awarded to Italy in the doubles tie.
1976 Innsbruck: Olympic luge is timed to the thousandth of a second, making it the most precisely timed winter discipline at the Winter Games (until 1998 when short track follows suit). West German sliders wear egg-shaped helmets en route to three medals and thus are dubbed “The Coneheads.” The aerodynamic headgear is subsequently outlawed. Taiwan’s Huang Liu-Chong records what is believed to be the slowest four-run luge time in Olympic history (5:22.646).
1980 Lake Placid: 1976 Olympic gold-medalist Dettlef Guenther of East Germany manages to place fourth in singles despite falling off his sled near the end of the third run and climbing back on to finish. The East German doubles team of Hans Rinn and Norbert Hahn become the first athletes to win back-to-back luge golds at the Games. (Hahn is not related to countrymen Bernd and Ulrich Hahn who finish fourth).
1988 Calgary: Steffi Walter-Martin becomes the first luger to defend Olympic gold in a singles event and leads an East German sweep. West Germany’s Georg Hackl wins silver, the first of his five consecutive medals in men’s singles. After having problems with his start, a special practice ramp is built for him at his home track in Koenigssee.
1992 Albertville: Austria’s Doris and Angelika Neuner go 1-2 and become the second sisters in Olympic history to finish first and second in an individual event. (In 1964, Marielle and Christine Goitschel of France did it twice in alpine skiing; Marielle won gold in giant slalom and Christine won the slalom gold. Canadian sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe went 1-2 in moguls in 2014). But the women’s luge isn’t without controversy. After the first two runs, coaches from Italy and the U.S. accuse the Austrians of illegally strapping their suits to the heels of their boots to create an aerodynamic toe-point. The protest is rejected. Men’s champion Georg Hackl wins the closest men’s singles competition in 24 years (.306 seconds ahead of Austria’s Markus Prock). The race will be even closer two years later, in 1994, when Hackl wins his second of three consecutive gold medals.
1994 Lillehammer: Hackl and Prock duel again. Hackl wins the first two runs and enters the second day with a .010 second edge over the Austrian. On the third run, Prock sets a course record and takes the overall lead by .048 seconds. A bad final run leaves him runner-up again – this time, .013 seconds behind his German nemesis – then the closest finish in Olympic singles history. In doubles, Italy’s Wilfried Huber finally defeats his older brother Norbert in a major competition. Wilfried wins gold, Norbert wins silver, and another brother, Guenther, wins bronze in the two-man bobsled. The women’s champion, Italy’s Gerda Weissensteiner has her gold medal stolen two weeks later while attending her brother’s funeral. The Lillehammer organizers replace it.
1998 Nagano: North America wins its first medals in Olympic luge. U.S. doubles team of Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer earns silver and Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin claim the bronze. Georg Hackl of Germany wins his third consecutive singles gold, becoming the fifth winter Olympian to three-peat in an individual event, joining Ulrich Wehling in nordic combined, speed skater Bonnie Blair, and figure skaters Gillis Grafstrom and Sonja Henie. Jens Mueller wins his second medal, a bronze, 10 years after his 1988 gold.
2002 Salt Lake: For the first time since 1988, Germany’s Georg Hackl does not win Olympic gold in men’s singles. He had won three consecutive golds – in 1992, 1994 and 1998 – but his bid to win an unprecedented fourth winter gold medal is halted by Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler. But Hackl does become the first Olympian – summer or winter – to win five medals in an individual event when he wins silver (he also won silver in 1988). For the second consecutive Games, U.S. doubles teams won silver and bronze with Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin claiming silver and Chris Thorpe and Clay Ives winning bronze. Germany sweeps the women’s medals.
2006 Torino: For the first time since 1984, Germany’s Georg Hackl does not win a medal in men’s singles. However, Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler wins his second consecutive gold and his fourth straight medal. Latvia’s Martins Rubenis wins his nation’s first Winter Olympic medal (bronze in men’s singles). Germany sweeps the women’s singles event for the second consecutive Games and Sylke Otto wins her second straight gold, becoming the oldest luge gold medalist in history (male or female). Silke Kraushaar-Pielach wins silver, becoming the first woman to win three Olympic luge medals. No American wins a medal but Tony Benshoof and Courtney Zablocki both finish fourth. It was the best finish ever by an American woman (until Erin Hamlin won bronze in 2014) and tied for the best for an American man.
2010 Vancouver: Luge events took a tragic turn in Vancouver when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili fatally crashed during practice. The men's course was altered to start where the women and doubles started, resulting in a shorter race that favored strong starters over the more technical drivers. Germany's Felix Loch was the two-time reigning world champion, and won his first Olympic title at age 20. Armin Zoeggeler continues his medal streak, winning his fifth consecutive medal, this time bronze. While American Erin Hamlin entered as a medal favorite after claiming a world title in 2009, she fell short, finishing 16th.
2014 Sochi: Luge at the 2014 Games featured the mixed team relay event for the first time, after it was approved by the IOC in 2011. The United States came away with a bronze medal, won by Erin Hamlin in the women's singles event. Germany took gold in all four events, with Felix Loch repeating as the winner of men's singles and Natalie Geisenberger winning her first Olympic title. The two led Germany to gold in the team relay.
2018 PyeongChang: Chris Mazdzer became the first American man to win a singles medal in luge, taking silver. Germany again dominated the medal count, with Natalie Geisenberger repeating as the women's singles gold medalist, followed by Dajana Eitberger with silver. But in the men's singles event, favorite Felix Loch made a mistake on his final run and dropped off the podium, leaving Austria's David Gleirscher with the gold -- but German Johannes Ludwig took bronze. Two German doubles teams won the gold and bronze in their event, then the German relay team won gold.