A luge legend in his own lifetime
With three Olympic gold medals, six overall World Cup titles and 12 World Championship golds to his name, Felix Loch has put together one of the finest records in the history of luge. PyeongChang 2018, however, proved to be a disappointment for the German great – memories of which he will be hoping to erase at Beijing 2022.
Olympic champion at 20
Loch was destined to become a luger, with his father Norbert representing Germany at the Olympic Winter Games Sarajevo 1984. The young Loch developed a taste for winning at junior level, quickly graduating from domestic to international competitions and lifting the individual and team junior world titles in 2006.
Loch was only 18 when he became luge’s youngest ever world champion in Oberhof (GER) in 2008. A year later he set a new world luge speed record of 153.9kmh at Whistler Sliding Centre – the same venue where at Vancouver 2010 he posted the fastest time in each of the four legs of the Olympic competition. As a result he became, aged 20, the youngest ever gold medallist in a sport that first appeared on the Winter Games programme at Innsbruck 1964.
One for the future
The man Loch succeeded as Olympic champion, Italy’s Armin Zöggeler, who won gold at Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006, reacted to the German’s victory in Vancouver by predicting a very bright future for him: “He’s a pure talent. He’s got almost the perfect physique for luge and with his huge appetite for hard work, he’s going to become a star very quickly indeed.”
Zöggeler’s prediction was spot on, as Loch followed up his Olympic triumph in extraordinary style, completing World Cup/World Championship doubles in 2012 and 2013 and racking up a staggering 14 wins on the international circuit in the same period.
The appliance of science
One of Loch’s strengths lies in his scientific approach to his sport: “You really have to be able to understand physics in order to correctly identify and evaluate the key factors in each race, such as the impact of gravitational force – the load acting on your body in relation to speed and changes in direction.” He is regularly able to perfect his sport in a wind tunnel owned by a major German car manufacturer.
A double in Sochi
Loch’s Olympic title defence at Sochi 2014 began with him trailing Russian veteran Albert Demchenko after the first leg. The German came back to dominate the final three legs, however, retaining his crown in comfortable fashion from his two forty-something challengers, with Demchenko finishing 0.476 back in second and Zöggeler 1.271 seconds off the pace in third. “I feel very relieved right now,” he said afterwards.
There was more to come from the insatiable German in Sochi, as he teamed up with compatriots Natalie Geisenberger, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt to win the new team relay event and land another gold.
A fabulous record
A three-time Olympic gold medallist by the age of 24, Loch continued to rack up title after title, winning three consecutive World Cup crowns between 2014 and 2016 and completing a golden hat-trick at the 2016 World Championships in Königsee, topping the podium in the singles, sprint and mixed team events. Yet after amassing five straight overall World Cup wins and 12 World Championship golds, Loch suddenly faced a stern challenge with the emergence of Russia’s two-time junior world champion Roman Repilov in the 2016/17 season, one in which Repilov denied the German a sixth World Cup triumph in a row.
“I would have liked to keep the run going, but Roman has been very strong this season,” said Loch. “He deserves his overall win.” The German still managed to record victories in Winterberg (GER) and Oberhof (GER) to take his total career victories to 34, though he could finish no higher than sixth in the singles at the 2017 World Championships in Igls (AUT).
A fateful final run
Prior to making his third Olympic appearance, Loch won his sixth World Cup title in brilliant fashion, scoring four more wins in singles and sprint events - the perfect preparation for his bid for a third successive Olympic singles gold at PyeongChang 2018.
He could not have made a better start to his Olympic title defence, opening up a lead of 0.188 seconds over the field after the first two runs, with Austria’s David Gleirscher lying second. The German stretched that lead by four thousandths of a second in the third run, which ended with the USA’s Chris Mazdzer ahead of Gleirscher in second.
Loch’s hopes of a golden hat-trick ended on Curve 9 on his final run, however, when a mistake caused him to lose speed and trail in fifth overall. Gleirscher took the gold ahead of Mazdzer, with Loch’s compatriot Johannes Ludwig jumping up from fifth to take bronze.
The greatest gift of all
Sharing his disappointment on his Facebook page, Loch wrote: “It’s the toughest moment of my career as an athlete and I’m able to deal with it thanks to you, my fans. It’s amazing to have so many people behind me… Things will feel different tomorrow, and I’ll be back in four years’ time, on the attack again. Once an athlete, always an athlete!”
Overlooked for the team relay, Loch looked on as Ludwig helped Arlt, Wendl and Geisenberger collect their fourth Olympic golds as Germany retained their title. Loch immediately set his sights on a new Olympic cycle and Beijing 2022, while also celebrating the arrival of his second child, Ludwig, on 4 May 2018.