MEN'S SKELETON HEATS 1 AND 2: SEE RESULTS HERE | WATCH FULL EVENT REPLAY HERE
Germany has never won a gold medal in skeleton at the Winter Olympics. That may very well change on Friday, as the country has already established a nearly insurmountable one-two lead with men's sliders Christopher Grotheer and Axel Jungk. Barring a nasty bite from "The Dragon," the nickname for the Yanqing National Sliding Centre's notoriously challenging Xiaohaituo Bobsled and Luge Track, it will be difficult for any competitor to eclipse Grotheer's 0.70-second advantage.
"The Dragon" attacked more than a few athletes during the first two men's heats, including two-time Olympic silver medalist Martins Dukurs of Latvia. Sliders grazed the walls, or sometimes even pinballed from one side to the other. The field had to strike a difficult balance between speed and caution, anticipating the course's 16 serpentine curves.
Perhaps because of his familiarity with the course, China's 24-year-old Yan Wengag managed to emerge from relative obscurity in his sport and now sits in third at the midway point. Just 0.05 seconds separate the 30-year-old Jungk and Yan; the Chinese slider could easily take silver or even gold if he remains steady and the frontrunners suffer hard hits.
Dukurs, 37, now stands a distant sixth. He spoke to the importance of consistency on this particular course ahead of the first two heats. Perhaps his strategy will ultimately pay off: He laid down two 1:00.62 runs, and is currently 0.91 seconds from first.
Team USA's Andrew Blaser, the country's only male competitor, ranked 21st at the midway point. Unless he's able to crack the top 20 in his next run, the 32-year-old will end the competition with just three total heats.
Grotheer, 29, won back-to-back world championship golds in the 2020 and 2021 men's races; he also finished first in the 2021 Olympic test event. Meanwhile, Jungk was the championship runner-up in 2018 and 2020.
Yan's best result at a major tournament thus far: seventh place at the St. Moritz 2020 World Cup event.