Italy’s "Cannibal on ice"
When Italy’s Armin Zöggeler won in Sochi the bronze in the men’s luge, behind Felix Loch of Germany and Russia’s Albert Demchenko, the 40-year-old became the first athlete in history to win six medals at six consecutive editions of the Olympic Winter Games!
Armin Zöggeler’s love affair with the ice began when he was just seven years old, playing on the Tyrolean slopes of his native Bolzano in the north of Italy. He started working with his first coach, Severin Unterholzner as a teenager, and by the time he was 14 had claimed victory in the Junior World Cup.
The man from Merano went on to amass an impressive array of victories in various competitions, including five world championship titles. Between 1997 and 2006, he topped the overall rankings in the Luge World Cup no less than five times. It was an achievement that earned him the nickname “the Cannibal. A policeman when not competing in the luge, Zöggeler also acquired the reputation of being unshakeably calm, hence his other nickname: “the ice-blooded champion”.
At the age of 20, the Italian made his Olympic debut, at Lillehammer 1994. He came away with a bronze medal, joining two of luge’s legends, Germany’s Georg Hackl and Austria’s Marcus Prock, on the podium. Four years later, at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano in 1998, Zöggeler underlined his status as a rising force in the discipline, taking the silver behind Hackl.
Two-time Olympic champion
In February 2002, at the Salt Lake City Games, he shared the podium with Hackl and Prock once again, but this time it was he who occupied the top step. Four years later, as the Games travelled to Turin in his native Italy, Zöggeler revelled in the chance to compete in front of a home crowd on a familiar Cesana Pariol track. He soon lived up to his billing as favourite, blitzing the first two heats to take an early lead.
However, after finishing second in the third heat, he then diced with disaster in the final heat, posting just the fifth fastest time. However, his overall lead was large enough for him to retain top spot and claim a second consecutive gold, just 11 hundredths of a second ahead of Russia’s Albert Demchenko, and 35.7 hundredths ahead of Mārtiņš Rubenis of Latvia.
Six and out
For his fifth Games, Vancouver 2010, the Cannibal, by now aged 36, found himself up against the new generation of German luge talent in the guise of Felix Loch and David Möller, and he had to settle for bronze as he won his fifth consecutive medal.
At Sochi 2014, Zöggeler, who carried the Italian flag at the Opening Ceremony, found himself once more unable to match defending champion Loch, while this time it was local hero Demchenko who pipped him to silver. The Italian’s bronze, his sixth medal in six consecutive editions of the Games, set a new benchmark. Having assured his place in Olympic history he declared that he was bidding the Games farewell, bringing to an end an illustrious 20-year Olympic career.