Joint reigning four-man world champions Johannes Lochner and Francesco Friedrich will be spearheading Germany’s push for bobsleigh glory at PyeongChang 2018. At the age of 27, both are at the peak of their considerable powers.
Held in Königsee (GER), the 2017 IBSF World Championships produced a first in the history of the four-man bob, with two German crews tying for gold after four keenly contested runs.
Johannes Lochner (partnered by Matthias Kagerhuber, Joshua Bluhm and Christian Rasp) and Francesco Friedrich (partnered by Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis) shared the title after clocking total times of 3:14.10. Nico Walther finished just 0.16 seconds behind them to complete a German clean sweep.
Meanwhile, in the two-man event, Friedrich teamed up with Margis to take the gold, while Lochner – partnered by Bluhm – finished third.
In winning five of the six medals on offer, Germany cemented its position as the world's leading bobsleigh power. The most successful nation in both world championship and Olympic history (with 11 Winter Games golds since 1924 and 27 Olympic medals in total), Germany looks set to field three crews in both the four-man and two-man events at PyeongChang 2018, just as it did at Sochi 2014.
Bettering Uncle Rudi
Leading their challenge in the Republic of Korea will be Friedrich and Lochner. Born on 15 October 1990, Lochner is the younger of the two by just five months. Crowned a junior two-man and four-man world champion in Winterberg (GER) in 2016, he made his World Cup debut in 2014 while also competing in the Europe Cup, winning both titles in the 2015/16 season.
Lochner then won the continental four-man crown in Winterberg in 2017 and finished a runner-up to Friedrich in the two-man.
It was a year in which his World Cup career also took off, with eight victories in both events, including a four-man win in the Olympic season opener at Park City (USA) on 19 November 2017.
Lochner will have high hopes when he goes for gold at the Alpensia Sliding Centre, a track he knows well. As well as setting the three fastest runs in the four-man at an international training meet in March 2017, he came second to Friedrich there in October that year.
"My big dream is to become an Olympic champion and go one better than my uncle Rudi Lochner, who won silver in the two-man bob in Albertville in 1992."
Having suffered while watching brother Rudi hurtling down the track, Lochner's father was none too keen to allow his son to take up bobsleigh, only allowing him to try it out for a short while. Fortunately for German bobsleigh, the young Johannes stuck at his sport and proved that he too has what it takes to succeed at the very highest level.
Friedrich in fine fettle
Friedrich began his career earlier than Lochner and already has seven world championship golds, four of them coming consecutively in the two-man between 2013 and 2017. Should he defend that title successfully next time around, he will pull level with legendary Italian driver Eugenio Monti, who won five straight world titles between 1957 and 1961.
Friedrich did not fare quite so well at Sochi 2014, finishing eighth with Kevin Kuske in the two-man, and steering Germany to 10th place in the four-man competition.
However, the German enjoyed a superb 2016/17 campaign, scoring his world championship double in Königsee and winning the two-man World Cup title, a triumph sealed by a win in PyeongChang in the last race of the season. In the process, he also won the combined four-man/two-man title.
"It's a great track," said Friedrich, giving his view on the facilities at the Alpensia Sliding Centre. "There are a few tough sections, like turns two, nine and 15, but it's fantastic to race here. We made a really great start and I hope we can do it again at the Olympic Games in 2018.
"Turn two is very special," he added. "It's really open and you have to drive the bob perfectly to come out clean. It's similar to the exit of turn nine because you need to head into the straight without hitting the walls. That's where the speed comes from and it's very exciting."
With Friedrich and Lochner pushing each other to ever-greater heights, Germany has every chance of winning more Olympic bobsleigh golds at PyeongChang 2018.
Nico Walther, who is also 27, will also be in the frame for the medals. A two-time junior luge world champion in the men's doubles, he is now one of the top drivers on the international circuit and a regular on World Cup podiums.
The German trio show no sign of letting up as PyeongChang 2018 approaches, with Lochner winning ahead of Walther and Friedrich in the four-man at the World Cup in Winterberg on 10 December 2017.
Lochner stayed on top in the next round in Innsbruck (AUT), which doubled up as the European Championships, partnering Rademacher, Bluhm and Rasp to the European four-man title, while Friedrich – joined by Margis – retained his two-man title at Lochner's expense.