Luge: Lightning Loch leads the German charge
For 17 days, the circuit at the Sanki Sliding Centre played host to luge, skeleton and bob. First up was the luge, where in addition to the men’s and women’s singles and the men’s doubles, there was also the intriguing prospect of the all-new mixed team event. The Germans always excel in the luge… and they didn’t disappoint.
8-9 February 2014: Loch defends his title
In the men’s singles competition, Felix Loch (GER) retained his Olympic title to confirm his status as the world’s number one. Albert Demchenko (RUS) marked his record-equalling seventh Olympic Games with the silver, while Armin Zöggeler (ITA) – Olympic champion in 2002 and 2006 – claimed bronze to maintain his record of making every luge podium since 1994. Loch’s natural speed over the four legs was too much for his two fortysomething rivals. He finished with a combined time of 3min 27.526 seconds, 0.476 seconds ahead of Demchenko, 42 and 1.271 seconds ahead of the 40-year-old Zöggeler.
“It was very difficult, in Russian territory, against Russia and against Armin. I'm so relieved now,” said Loch. Demchenko, who confirmed that Sochi 2014 would be his final Games, put the magnitude of Loch’s performance in context: “In sliding sports to be winning by four tenths of a second after only three runs is impossible,” said the Russian, who had posted the fastest time in the first run only to find himself over three tenths behind Loch in the second, before the German upped the ante in the final two runs.
Meanwhile, Zöggeler, whose feat of winning medals in six different editions of the Winter Games is a first, also confirmed that he was hanging up his luge after Sochi: “This will definitely be my last,” he said. For Loch, though, time is very much on his side. The eight-time world champion is still just 24, and has the potential to rule his sport for years to come. The German remains one gold short of his coach Georg Hackl, who won three in a row from Albertville in 1992 to Nagano in 1998, sandwiched between silvers at Calgary 1988 and Salt Lake City 2002. However Loch insisted he feels no pressure to emulate that achievement, and is happy just creating his own legacy. “I try to go my own way and leave my own footprints,” he said.
10-11 February 2014: Gold for Geisenberger
Following her compatriot Felix Loch’s triumph in the men’s event, three-time world champion Natalie Geisenberger dominated the women’s singles luge, producing a blistering performance over two days to secure gold. The 26-year-old improved on her bronze medal from Vancouver 2010, taking the Olympic title from compatriot Tatjana Hüfner, who had to settle for silver. American Erin Hamlin took bronze to become her country’s first Olympic individual medallist in the luge. The day belonged to Geisenberger, though, who justified her favourite tag by posting a combined total time of 3:19.768 for her four runs, 0.139 seconds faster than her closest rival, and twice breaking the course record en route.
Geisenberger, who received a congratulatory hug from Loch at the end, admitted the magnitude of her achievement had yet to sink in. “I still need time to realise completely what I've done,” she said. “In the fourth run, when I understood I’d won the Olympic title, I almost started to shout with joy before crossing the finishing line.” I'm amazed. The chance to win Olympic title may not happen again and I'm really happy that I took this opportunity to win.”
For Hüfner, silver meant the German now boasts an Olympic medal of each colour, having previously won gold in Vancouver and bronze at Turin 2006. 2009 world champion Hamlin was delighted to become the first American luger to win an Olympic medal. “It's just amazing,” she said. “Hopefully I’ve paved the way for the future generations of American female lugers. That is super motivating."
12 February 2014: Wendl and Arlt at the double
Reigning world champions and World Cup holders Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt continued Germany’s golden streak in the luge, by defeating two-time Olympic champions brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger (AUT). The German duo clocked a combined time of one minute 38.933 seconds in their two runs to finish 0.522 seconds ahead of the Linger brothers. “There are no special secrets to our success, just two good runs,” shrugged Arlt, though he admitted he and Wendl had been inspired by the exploits of Felix Loch and Natalie Geisenberger in the singles. “They pushed us, we knew they're now strong and we need to show our best to be level with them,” he revealed.
Top of the world
In their first run, Wendl and Arlt set a new Sanki Sliding Centre track record of 49.373 seconds, to consign the Linger brothers to silver. Another pair of brothers, Andris and Juris Sics of Latvia, who took silver at Vancouver 2010, finished third. “To win a medal in such a strong company is fantastic,” said older brother Juris. But the final word lay with an ecstatic Arlt: “Germany is on the top of the world in luge. It's our sport.”
13 February 2014: Germans team up to clean up
Germany stormed to victory in the team relay to complete a clean sweep of all four luge golds in Sochi. Making its Olympic debut, the mixed event featured teams comprising one man, one woman and one doubles pairing. Ahead of the contest, the main question was whether the all-conquering Germans would equate to the sum of their glittering parts. Natalie Geisenberger, Felix Loch and the tandem of Tobias Wendl /Tobias Arlt – each of them already sporting a gold medal from Sochi 2014 – provided the answer in emphatic fashion. The German team clocked 2 minutes 45.649 seconds, a full 1.030 seconds faster than hosts Russia, who were represented by Tatyana Ivanova, Albert Demchenko and doubles pair Alexander Denisyev/Vladislav Antonov. Latvia’s team of Eliza Tiruma, Martins Rubens and Sics brothers Andris and Juris came in third in 2:47.295 to claim the bronze.
“It's awesome, the greatest feeling ever,” said Loch. “We’ve known each other since childhood and we are best friends so this is a very special feeling to win this medal together as a team.” Geisenberger agreed: “It's fantastic to be able to add another medal to the German medal tally. Normally we are individual athletes, but to become Olympic champions as a team is the greatest.”
The 42-year-old Demchenko, competing a record-equalling seventh Winter Games, admitted he had harboured hopes of topping the podium at the Sanki, but was still delighted to come away with another medal. "Two gold medals would be better than two silver medals, but two silver medals in one Olympics is very good result,” said the Russian, who also finished second behind Loch in the individual event. “Now Russia is developing luge and there is hope that at the next Winter Olympics we will have more medals in all the sliding sports.”
Meanwhile, Andris Sics, who with his brother had claimed bronze in the men’s pairs a day earlier, said their two podiums in Sochi also laid down a marker for PyeongChang 2018. “The best is yet to come, and we will work to perform even better at the next Winter Games.”