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Italians and East Germans share doubles title

07 Feb 1972
Sapporo 1972, Olympic News, Luge

The luge doubles competition in Sapporo was originally to be decided over two runs, as was the standard format back then. However the first run was cancelled halfway through after a problem with the start gate. Those who had already raced had their times wiped. The most aggrieved were the Italian pair of Paul Hildgartner and Walter Plaikner, who had set the fastest time but had now seen it erased. However, their contention that everyone had suffered from the same problem, and that the times should therefore stand, was overruled, and in the end the athletes had to forget about what had happened and refocus on the one run that would decide the titles.

The East Germans were always likely to be strong. They would later win both the men's and women's singles events, and with two crews racing in the doubles, a one-two seemed a real possibility. But the single-run format placed extra stress on each athlete to push themselves to the limit. And the Italians were still bristling with confidence after their speed over the abandoned first run.

That confidence proved to be well placed. The Italians led after the first run, but only by a slight margin. Horst Hörnlein and Reinhard Bredow in the first East German sled were just 0.06 seconds behind. The rest of the field was at least 0.4 seconds further back, so the contest was essentially transformed into a two-way shoot-out for gold.

Second time around, the East Germans again set a quick time, leaving the Italian pair needing to go faster than 44.14 seconds to clinch victory from the grasp of the East Germans. But instead, the Italian team finished in exactly 44.14 seconds. The two luges were now tied on precisely the same time. It was the one outcome that nobody had ever planned for.

After plenty of discussion, the organisers came up with a sensible solution: gold medals for both teams.

Hildgartner later turned his attention solely to the singles event, winning a silver medal at Lake Placid 1980 and a gold medal at Sarajevo 1984.

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