“It’s an honour and a source of great pride and motivation. I’ll try to live up to the task,” said Armin Zöggeler on learning from Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago that he had been chosen to lead his country’s delegation into Sochi’s Olympic Stadium on 7 February 2014. It is a case of second time lucky for the two-time Olympic gold medallist, who was originally earmarked to be Italy’s flagbearer at Vancouver 2010, but had to decline due to the scheduling of the luge event. “It’s a new milestone in my career,” he said proudly. And what a career it has been!
The Italian first made his mark on his sport as a teenager. “I come from a long line of sportsmen,” he explains. “I took to the luge when I was very young, but I never imagined that it would become my passion. At 14, I was already competing on artificial tracks.” Within a year Zöggeler was crowned world junior champion in 1988, claiming what would prove to be the first of many honours.
Italy’s winter sports maestro
A quarter of a century later, the man known as “the Cannibal” has amassed more silverware than any other Italian winter sports athlete, and is the most decorated luger in history. He has topped the FIL World Cup standings 10 times, winning 55 races in the process, and has secured 16 FIL World Championship medals (including six golds). Perhaps more impressive still, the Italian has appeared on the podium in all five of the Olympic Winter Games in which he has competed. After an initial bronze medal at Lillehammer 1994, he went on to collect a silver at Nagano 1998, golds at Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006, and another bronze at Vancouver 2010.
Zöggeler is one of only two Italian Olympians (the other being fencer Edoardo Mangiarotti) to have come away with a medal at five different editions of the Games. “Over the years, I’ve managed to continuously improve my level of performance – my house is full of medals,” he reflects. “But even after all this success, one thing’s remained the same since I was very young: the overwhelming joy of topping the podium. That thought alone gives me a huge amount of motivation, and that in turn makes me want to keep competing for a little while longer.”
In November 2013, a month short of his 40th birthday, Zöggeler set a new luge record when he claimed his 100th podium finish in the World Cup race in Winterberg (GER), coming in 44/1000th of a second behind young German Chris Eisler. A month later in Lake Placid, he went one better as he claimed his 56th World Cup victory, confirming his return to peak form.
Who would bet against the evergreen Italian setting another momentous milestone in Sochi as he attempts to become the first athlete in history to win six medals at six different editions of the Olympic Winter Games?
Information on tickets for Sochi 2014 is available here: http://www.olympic.org/news/sochi-2014-olympic-winter-games-tickets/190291