Germany’s luge queen
Natalie Geisenberger has two Olympic Winter Games doubles to her name, winning women’s singles and team relay golds at both Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, the year in which she became the first woman to win the FIL Luge World Cup six times. The most decorated female athlete in her sport, she is also the joint most successful luger of all time, a distinction she shares with her men’s doubles compatriots, Tobias Arlt and Tobias Wendl.
Born in Munich on 5 February 1988, Geisenberger grew up 50 kilometres away in the Bavarian mountain town of Miesbach, which boasts a summer luge track. A member of the local luge club from the age of 10, she went on to become an outstanding young luger, winning 14 Junior World Cup events, three overall Junior World Cup titles and six Junior World Championship crowns between 2004 and 2007: three in the singles and three in the team event. On moving up to the senior tour, she became European singles champion in 2008 in Cesana Pariol (ITA), where she also won an U-23 world title three years later.
An Olympic debut
Geisenberger’s first win on the World Cup circuit came in the 2008/09 season, when she finished second in the standings behind Hüfner, a situation that would repeat itself in the next three seasons. She made her Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010 at the age of 21, and made an immediate visit to the podium to collect bronze alongside Hüfner (gold) and Austria’s Nina Reityhmayer (silver).
Geisenberger made her big breakthrough in the 2012/13 season, landing her first World Cup crown and starting her collection of world titles in Whistler (CAN) with victory in the singles and the team relay with Felix Loch and the men’s doubles pairing of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, the first of the quartet’s many team triumphs.
Prior to competing in her second Winter Games at Sochi 2014, Geisenberger secured her second World Cup title with seven wins out of nine. She carried that form with her to the Sanki Sliding Centre, going fastest in all four legs of the singles competition to win by a massive 1.139 seconds from defending Olympic champion Hüfner.
“I still need time to realise completely what I’ve done,” Geisenberger later said. “I knew by the time I’d reached the lower part of the course on my fourth run that I’d won the Olympic title, and I was almost screaming with joy when I crossed the finishing line.
“I'm currently in my best form ever. I adjusted my style for this track, though it wasn’t easy to do as it’s pretty tricky after curves five and six. I’m amazed. The chance to win an Olympic title may not happen again and I’m really happy that I took this opportunity.”
Two days later, Geisenberger was Germany’s lead-out luger in the mixed team relay, going fastest among the women lugers to give her team-mates (Loch, Wendl and Arlt once more) an advantage they would build on to secure an impressive winning margin of 1.030 over Russia in second place.
The undisputed world no1
Geisenberger was simply unstoppable after her Sochi 2014 double, and kicked on to complete six successive World Cup title wins by 2018. Further World Championship golds also came her way in both the singles and team relay (again with Loch, Wendl and Arlt) in 2015 in Sigulda (LAT) and in 2016 in Königsee (GER), taking her collection of world titles to seven.
An aspiring officer in the national police force and a keen photographer, Geisenberger made her next objective clear, posting a snap from the Olympic test event at the Alpensia Sliding Centre in February 2017 on her Facebook page, and writing: “A year to go before PyeongChang 2018.”
The most decorated Olympic luger of all time
Geisenberger scored five more World Cup wins on the road to PyeongChang 2018, taking her career total to 43 and clinching that sixth straight overall title a month before her third Olympic appearance.
When the time came to defend her Olympic singles title, the German surged into the lead on her first run and stayed there to complete a comfortable win by 0.367 seconds from her compatriot Dajana Eitberger and by 0.412 from Canada’s Alex Gough.
“I came here having pretty much won everything there was to win,” she said after giving herself the perfect birthday present, having turned 30 a few days earlier. “I’ve got Olympic gold and I’ve got world titles. Obviously I’ve been dreaming about winning the gold, but I’ve been pretty relaxed about it. Now I’ve got it.”
Three days later, Geisenberger gave Germany the perfect start in the team relay, before handing over to men’s singles bronze medallist Johannes Ludwig. He kept the Germans in front and then made way for Wendl and Arlt to finish the job off. The defending champions’ time of 2:24.517 gave them victory by an emphatic margin over Canada and Austria.
“This is fantastic. I did a good run, Johannes was very clean, our double was perfect too, and here we are on top,” said Geisenberger after becoming a four-time Olympic gold medallist, a joint-record haul for the sport, a distinction she shares with Arlt and Wendl.
The most successful female luger in the history of the Winter Games, Geisenberger’s total of five career medals has put her just one behind the greatest luger of them all, Italy’s Armin Zöggeler. There is every reason to believe the flying German will push past him one day.