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Russian luger Albert Demchenko has made a record-equalling seven Olympic Games appearances, but two of his three silver medals did not come until Sochi 2014, when he was 42.
At the ripe old age of 42, in front of raucous home crowds at the Sanki Sliding Centre in Sochi, luger Albert Demchenko (RUS) won two hard-fought silver medals, first in the men’s singles, where he finished behind Felix Loch (GER), and then in the new team relay event, in which the Russians finished 1:03 seconds behind the victorious German quartet.
“My debut at the Games was very exciting, but winning two medals in Sochi will also live forever in my memory,” reflects Demchenko who, along with Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, is one of just two athletes to compete at seven editions of the Olympic Winter Games. “I’ve never performed in front of such a large Russian audience. The support they gave me was crazy.”
Demchenko was born and raised in the town of Chusovoy in the Ural Mountains, an area known for its long, snowy winters. “I grew up in a large family,” he explains. “I was a bit of a wild child. When I started to get involved in winter sports, it stopped me from loitering aimlessly in the streets. My parents were delighted with the adult guidance I got and when my career took off, my achievements on the international scene became a source of great pride to them.”
Demchenko showed great promise in the luge in his youth, claiming second place in an international junior event in Germany at the age of 13. In 1990, he was called up to the Russian Olympic team as a 19-year-old, competing on the La Plagne run at the Albertville (FRA) Games in 1992, where he finished ninth in the singles and eighth in the doubles, alongside Alexei Zelensky. In Lillehammer (NOR) in 1994, he was again ninth in the singles and seventh in the doubles, while in Nagano (JAP) four years later, he ended up 10th in the doubles.
The resilient luger only truly began to scale the heights as he entered his 30s. Following the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City (USA), where he finished fifth, his best Olympic performance so far, he topped the overall FIL Luge World Cup standings in season 2004-2005. And at Turin 2006, he finally made it onto an Olympic podium, capturing a silver medal in the singles behind Armin Zöggeler (ITA).
He was crowned European singles champion in 2006 and again in 2010, and he picked up two silvers at the 2012 FIL World Luge Championships. Sandwiched in between those competitions, he narrowly missed out on a medal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver (CAN), finishing fourth.
"Even prior to Vancouver I’d decided to keep at it," Demchenko said at the time. "I want to take part in the Games in my home country. Most importantly, I will get a chance to prepare properly for contesting the gold.” On 8 February 2014, he launched that quest in startling fashion, recording the best time of the first run of the men’s singles. Although Loch took control in the second run, the 42-year-old veteran comfortably held onto second position, seeing off the challenge of his old rival Zöggeler, who took bronze.
Five days later, Demchenko was stepping up to the podium once again, having joined forces with Tatiana Ivanova and the Alexander Denisyev/Vladislav Antonov pairing to secure a silver medal in the inaugural team competition.
“Two gold medals would be better than two silver medals, but two silvers in one Olympics is a very good result,” he remarked. “Now Russia is developing luge and there is a hope that at the next Olympic Games we will have more medals in all the sliding sports.”