Cheers, tears and a Royal visit as luge comes to a close
It had all the hallmarks of an end-of-event party - wild celebrations, tears of sadness and joy, the odd unusual alliance, and even a celebrity VIP guest.
The luge team relay is a relatively new event to the Olympic world, making its debut at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, and then appearing at the senior Games in Sochi in 2014. It provided a party atmosphere to finish off the luge event at the Lillehammer 2016 YOG.
All the teams field male and female singles competitors, plus a doubles sled. When the competitors reach the finish they hit a pad, which automatically opens the start gate for their teammates at the top of the track.
At high speed, hitting the pad can be something of a challenge. Tears were gushing from the eyes of Czech female racer Michaela Marsikova after she failed to make contact with the pad. This is the equivalent of an athlete dropping the baton, and a Polish rival put an arm around her for comfort. The two athletes walked away from the finish area together.
It summed up the camaraderie of whole event. This is a challenging sport where racers reach speeds of more than 100kmh and the “luge family” looks after its own.
“You see how we all work together as a team,” Great Britain racer Lucas Gebauer-Barrett said.
Great Britain did not have enough racers to make up their own national team so they teamed up with Kazakhstan. It was such an unusual sporting alliance that one of the GB team officials rushed over to take a picture of the team’s name on the electronic scoreboard.
Gebauer-Barrett added: “They don’t speak English that well, but we pounded our fists together at the top and told each other to have a good run.”
Germany's Paul-Lukas Heider celebrates at the end of his run. Photo: YIS / IOC Pietro Montanarella
With the Czech Republic disqualified, the combined team finished 12th and last in the competition as Germany, who had won silver medals in both of the singles competitions and the doubles race, finally won gold after an intense series of runs watched by Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon.
The German team – Jessica Tiebel, Paul-Lukas Heider, Hannes Orlamuender and Paul Gubitz – were involved in wild celebrations at the finish. They held off the challenge of the Russians with an aggregate time of two minutes 52.520 seconds to win by just 0.188 seconds over the three legs.
Russia clocked 2:52.708 to take silver ahead of bronze medallists Italy in 2:53.040.
Cue tears of joy from Heider’s mother Sybille, a volunteer at the Games. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “This isn’t just anything. We put our heart and soul into luge and we love the sport. To do it all in one day like this is great. It is just like the full Olympic Games.”
Paul-Lukas Heider said that before Tuesday the German team have been calling their coach “Mr Silver” after missing out on a place at the top of the podium at a Norwegian track made famous by the exploits of their compatriot Georg Hackl, the men’s singles champion at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.
“Now it is a perfect week,” he said. “It is very different, this team event, and we were super motivated. It shows how good we are when it comes to competition.”
Written by YIS / IOC ADRIAN WARNER
Adrian Warner is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. He has covered 13 Olympic Games in a career that has taken in Reuters, the London Evening Standard and the BBC.