Köhler and Enderlein make Olympic history in the luge
Organised by the International Bobsleigh and Toboganning Federation (FIBT), the first world luge championships were held in Oslo in 1955. The International Luge Federation (FIL) came into being two years later, with the sport duly earning inclusion on the Olympic programme. Due to the lack of an ice track at Squaw Valley 1960, however, it was not until Innsbruck 1964 that luge made its Winter Games debut, with a total of three events (men’s singles, women’s singles and men’s doubles) being held over six days at Igls.IOC
The Unified Team of Germany’s luge team for Innsbruck 1964 featured two talented youngsters in Thomas Köhler – the 1962 world champion – and Ortrun Enderlein, who made an immediate impact on stepping up from the juniors to win the East German title in 1963. The two were both products of Germany’s already impressive production line, which would continue to churn out European, world and Olympic luge champions in the years and decades that followed.
Enderlein fulfilled her rich promise in the women’s competition, which was held at the same time as the men’s. Posting the fastest times on each run, including a track-record 50.87 on her third descent, the German was in a league of her own in the 13-luger competition.
Though compatriot Isle Geisler, the 1962 and 1963 world champion, did all she could to challenge Enderlein, a mistake on her fourth run condemned her to silver, nearly three seconds adrift of the flying 20-year-old, with Austria’s Helene Thurner over four seconds behind the Olympic champion in third.
The men’s competition came down to a duel between Köhler and his team-mate and doubles partner Klaus-Michael Bonsack, the pair posting the top two times in each of the four runs. Köhler took a 0.34-second lead on the first descent, only for Bonsack to shave two tenths off on the second. Run three saw Köhler stretch his lead by 0.18 seconds, giving him a decisive cushion that he maintained despite losing five hundredths to his rival on the final run. Fellow countryman Hank Plenk slid into third place to give the Germans a clean sweep of the medals.
Though Köhler and Bonsack entered the men’s doubles, they did not take to the start line. The competition began with Austrian tandem Josef Feistmantl and Manfred Stengel taking a half-second lead from another home pair in Reinhold Senn and Helmut Thaler, who responded by going fastest in the second run, though not by enough to prevent Feistman and Stengl from taking the gold. Claiming the bronze behind Senn and Thaler were Italy’s Walter Außendorfer and Mair Sigisfredo.
Köhler was finally able to complete the elusive double at the 1967 world championships in Hammarstrand (SWE), where he won the singles title from Bonsack before pairing up with him to land the doubles crown. The duo then went on to win doubles gold at Grenoble 1968, where Köhler also took silver in the singles and Bonsack the bronze. Köhler made further returns to the Olympic stage at the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984 and the Seoul Summer Games four years later as the German Democratic Republic team’s chef de mission.
For her part, the ground-breaking Enderlein won world titles in Davos (SUI) in 1965 and in Hammarstrand two years later. She went on to become a member of the German Democratic Republic’s Olympic Committee, holding the position between 1970 and 1990.