Seventh heaven for Demchenko in Sochi
Albert Demchenko has been a fixture in the Russian luge team for almost quarter of a century, having made his international debut in 1990. His first taste of the Olympic Winter Games came two years later in Albertville. Now, at Sochi 2014, the local favourite will be contesting his seventh edition of the Games, a remarkable achievement matched only by fellow fortysomething, Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai.
Demchenko was born in a little village nestled in the Urals, on the western edge of Siberia, and therefore it is hardly surprising that winter sports formed part of his DNA.
“I was a very wild kid,” he recalls. “When I started doing sports, it got me off the streets, and stopped me from drifting. My parents were delighted to see me surrounded by adults, and when my career started to take off, they were particularly pleased with my achievements on the international stage. It was a great source of pride for them.”
By the time he turned 13, Demchenko was already showing huge talent as a luger, winning silver at the prestigious international junior event in Winterburg (GER).
In 1990, aged 19, he was selected for the Russian national team, going on to compete at his first Olympic Winter Games in Albertville in February 1992. He finished a creditable ninth in the men’s singles event, and eighth in the doubles with Alexey Zelensky.
At Lillehammer 1994, he finished ninth once again in the individual competition, and improved on his result in the two-man by a single place.
Four years later in Nagano, the Russian finished a relatively disappointing 10th in the two-man, but it was all invaluable experience and meant that, barely out of his teenage years, he already had the experience of a competitor in his thirties.
It was with the dawn of the new Millennium that Demchenko’s career truly took off.
At Salt Lake City 2002 he recorded his best Olympic result to date, finishing fifth in the singles competition. That provided him with a springboard for a series of triumphs on the world circuit.
In the 2004-2005 season, Demchenko won the FIL Luge World Cup title. And then in Turin in 2006 came his first Olympic medal as he claimed the silver behind the legendary Italian Armin Zöggeler, who will once again be vying with him for honours in Sochi.
2006 also saw him crowned European champion ahead of Zöggeler, going on to mount a successful defence of the title in 2010, though just missed out on the Olympic podium in Vancouver that same year, finishing fourth in the singles event.
At the Worlds in 2012 he won a pair of silvers in the singles and doubles competition.
Now at the age of 42, he is gearing up for his seventh Games on home snow and ice, and such is his passion and drive that he does not rule out an eighth appearance four years from now.
Speaking after an early morning practice run on the Sanki track on Friday, Demchenko was delighted with the facilities, and equally with the scheduling of the men’s luge competition, which will take place after dark, under floodlights.
“I prefer competing in the evening, when my head and my body are properly awake! We’ll see how it goes!”
And the Russian hinted that the Sanki track is likely to see some exceptional performances. “It has been operational for three years now. We've studied it very well. At the moment, in my view, it's one of the best in the world, in terms of its design, the logistics, and competition-readiness for the Olympic Games. It's better than the tracks at the six previous Games.”