The latest instalment in the Olympic Channel’s “Flame Catchers” series takes us to the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige and looks at the legacy that luge legend Armin Zöggeler has left for its young athletes. Inspired by his exploits, Lukas Gufler and Felix Schwarz won doubles gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016, firing hopes that they can pick up where the great Zöggeler left off.
Situated on the border with Austria, the mountainous region of Trentino-Alto Adige has produced many a winter sports champion over the years, not least in luge.
The 17 medals Italy has amassed in the sport since it first appeared on the Olympic programme in 1964 have all been claimed by athletes from this northern region.
Paul Hildgartner led the way by winning a doubles gold with Walter Plaikner at Sapporo 1972 – a medal they shared with Horst Hörnlein and Reinhard Bredow of the former German Democratic Republic – and then respective singles silver and gold at Lake Placid 1980 and Sarajevo 1984.
Thanks to that Sarajevo victory, Hildgartner became the first luger in history to win Olympic doubles and singles titles, a double he also achieved at the European and world championships.
Between making his Olympic debut at Lillehammer 1994 and his farewell at Sochi 2014, where he was his country’s flagbearer, Zöggeler became the first athlete in any sport to win medals in the same individual competition at six consecutive Olympic Games, a haul that included golds at Salt Lake City 2002 and in front of his fans at Turin 2006.
Zöggeler’s Turin triumph provided the up-and-coming Gufler with his first Olympic memory. “I admire him,” said the young Italian luger. “He had his own technique, his own approach to aerodynamics, and his own push-off.”
“I always watched Armin’s races. He is my hero,” said Gufler’s Lillehammer doubles partner Schwarz. “It’s because of him that I’ve always said, ‘I want to do that. I want to slide.’”
The heirs to Zöggeler’s crown, they are making rapid progress towards the highest level. The 19-year-old Gufler won a pair of bronze medals at the European Junior Championships in St Moritz (SUI) in January 2019, where he was partnered in the doubles by Leon Felderer, who also hails from Trentino-Alto Adige. The duo also placed second in the 2018/19 Junior World Cup, offering further proof that the legacy of the legendary Zöggeler is in very good hands.