Luge fans at Sochi 2014 enjoyed the outstanding performances of Felix Loch and Natalie Geisenberger, who won the singles events and the two Germans will hope to repeat the trick at next year’s Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. However the competition will be tough: The International Luge Federation (FIL) has been paving the way for new stars to also shine at the highest level with a successful development programme.
“Our programme has a mentoring scheme that plays an important part,” explains Wolfgang Harder, the FIL’s head of press. “Small countries that are unable to hire coaches and technicians on their own send their athletes to established luge nations like Germany, Austria or Latvia, where they receive the best support.
© Getty Images“One role model for the programme is Alexander Ferlazzo, who comes from Australia. He started in luge as a kid, before coming to Europe and qualifying for the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck. With FIL support, he competed in the Junior World Cup and then qualified for Sochi where he finished 33rd. The next year, he became the first-ever Australian to win a Junior World Cup. He has now been adopted by the Latvian team, can train with their national squad and benefit from the support of their staff.”
Ferlazzo finished 24th at this year’s World Championships. His upwards trajectory is clear and he is not the only youngster waiting to challenge the established order in PyeongChang.
“I think Roman Repilov [RUS] is one of the major candidates for next year,” Harder says. “He has won two gold medals at recent Junior World Championships and now, in his first year competing at the Viessmann World Cup, has won two races – as well as a silver at the World Championships in Innsbruck. He turns 21 in March and could well be the next major luge star.”
“A new venue means installing new infrastructure,” Harder says. “We need track workers, an ice maker, sports experts, officials and volunteers . During the initial phase of preparation, the FIL and International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) sent an ice maker and experienced track workers from other tracks to show people how it all works.”
© Getty ImagesEverything has gone to plan so far and the new track has taken the leap from imagination to real life. “I was in PyeongChang 18 months ago for the FIL’s annual congress,” Harder continues. “The track had already been built at that stage. We have been able to watch it develop from a plan on the page to reality, with a clear vision of how the final track should look.”
Next year’s event will be hugely popular judging by the success of the recent World Championships. More than 10,000 spectators attended across the three days of competition, with seven different nations winning medals. The inclusivity of luge was enhanced four years ago when a team relay event was included in the Olympic programme and harder hopes the sport’s scope continues to grow this time.
© Getty Images“The team relay will be included in PyeongChang too,” he says. “We have made a great deal of progress since then and now have races with 15 teams competing; it will be exciting to see how many manage to qualify for the 2018 Games.”
The stage is set for luge – whether through well-known figures or fresh faces – to thrill once more.