Luge first arrived on the Olympic scene in 1964 at the Innsbruck Winter Games. A unified German team, with athletes from East and West alike, swept the men’s podium and saw its women take gold and silver in the new event. Since that point, Germans have dominated the event like no other nation.
Entering Sochi, Germany (counting both East and West Germany during the Cold War years) had won nine of the 13 men’s singles titles at the Winter Games and taken 22 of the 39 total medals in the event. German women had also captured nine gold medals and 29 of all colors. And Germans, after getting shut out at the 1964 Games, had won nine doubles titles and 19 medals.
The dominance has continued at the Sanki Sliding Center during the first week of sliding competition at the Sochi Olympics. After a scare on the track ended far better than the fatal training accident in Whistler, German sliders have conquered all three gold medals on offer so far, a youth movement paving the way for another generation of dominance by Deutschland. The team relay competition concludes the schedule for the event on the Sanki track, and all four gold medalists will be taking to the track one final time as the fully-stacked favorite to take home two golds apiece.
Normally the Olympic podium in the luge has been the provenance of veteran sliders in the men’s luge. Of the first dozen gold medals handed out before Vancouver, the average age of the Olympic men’s champion was 26. Felix Loch, just 24, has turned that conventional logic on its head by winning his second consecutive Olympic gold in Sochi.
Four years ago, Loch had already started to show signs of dominance before arriving at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Already a world champion in 2008 at just 18 years old, Loch had successfully defended the title a year later and entered the Vancouver Games as one of the top luge sliders in the world. At Whistler, he would defeat compatriot David Möller by more than two-thirds of a second — a lifetime in luge — to become the youngest Olympic champion in men’s luge history.
Against a pair of 40-something contenders, Loch was equally dominant in 2014. Though much would be made about the swan songs of Italian slider Armin Zoeggeler and Russian stalwart Albert Demtschenko, neither they nor anybody else in the Olympic field had a chance of catching Loch.
Demtschenko actually had a slim 0.015-second lead after the first heat, sitting for a moment atop the leaderboard. But Loch responded on his second time down the track with the first sub-52 second time of the Games, pipping the Russian by more than three-tenths of a second and putting himself in pole position for the last two heats.
Nobody could claw back time on the young German on the last day of men’s singles competition. Loch would post the fastest time in both the third and fourth heats, claiming gold by just under half a second over Demtschenko and outpacing bronze medalist Zoeggeler by more than a second.
The result would allow Demtschenko and Zoeggeler to reach the podium at the final Olympiad for each man. Zoeggeler would set a record in the process, becoming the first athlete to win a medal in the same event for six straight Olympics. But in the end neither could unseat Loch, who has the potential to rewrite Olympic luge history over the next decade. In Pyeongchang four years from now, Loch will have the chance to tie fellow German slider Georg Hackl with a third consecutive Olympic gold — and Hackl was 25 when he won his first in Albertville in 1992, older when Loch after his second straight title in Sochi. If he can remain atop the sport, the potential is there for four or even five straight Olympic titles for Loch.
Luge - Men's Singles Medal Results
The German women had won four straight Olympic gold medals before Sochi, and had taken 10 of the 12 medals awarded during that span. The question coming into the 2014 Games was not whether the German women would win a fifth consecutive gold, but which German woman would have the honors.
Defending gold medalist Tatjana Hüfner was back to defend her title. The 30-year-old was two years younger than 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion Sylke Otto had been when winning her first in Salt Lake City, and despite being six years older than Loch was positioned for a second and possibly third consecutive Olympic crown.
Standing in her way, though, was younger teammate Natalie Geisenberger. The 26-year-old from Munich had dominated the World Cup circuit each of the past two years after taking second behind Hüfner in the 2011-12 season. Over the past two winters prior to the Sochi Games, Geisenberger won 13 of the 17 World Cup races where she competed (she sat out the last race of 2014 prior to Sochi, having already locked up her second straight World Cup title) and finished second in the other four. As a 22-year-old she had finished third in Vancouver, and as the current world champion the younger of the two Germans was the favorite.
It was essentially the same trajectory Hüfner had followed to gold in Vancouver, and she was trying to fend off a teammate in her prime. It didn’t work out so well, as Geisenberger climbed to her familiar vantage point on the top step of the podium with a blistering pace that was more than a full second faster than Hüfner’s aggregated time after the four Olympic runs.
Geisenberger was simply playing at a higher level than every other competitor in the women’s field. The only woman to post a sub-50 time from their start point on the track, the gold medalist did it on three of her four runs. (She would hold back slightly on the final trip down the track, playing conservative and staying safe with the gold already firmly secured. Her 50.189 time on the final run was still faster than all but three heat times posted on the track by every other woman in the field.)
Erin Hamlin, the 2009 world champion, would become the first American slider to win a singles luge medal at the Olympics. She would push Hüfner for the silver, but ultimately walked away with bronze a quarter-second behind the second-place time.
Luge - Women's Singles Medal Results
Germany has had far less luck in general in doubles luge at the Olympics, winning “just” eight of the 13 gold medals handed out prior to Sochi and “only” 18 total medals. In Torino and Vancouver, the ascendancy of Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger had kept the Germans from the top step of the Olympic doubles luge podium for two straight Olympiads for the first time since the sport joined the program in 1964.
The Linger brothers were once again contenders in Sochi, striving for an unprecedented third straight Olympic gold in doubles. They also knew all too well that their biggest threat was not the Sics brothers from Latvia that had taken silver in Vancouver but the German team of Tobiases that had dominated the World Cup each of the past two years. Tobias Arlt and Tobias Wendl, having competed together since they joined the international circuit last decade in their late teens, have matured into the best luge team in the world, restoring Germany’s place atop the world rankings in the discipline.
Like Loch and Geisenberger, the team of Arlt and Wendl has dominated the World Cup circuit the past two seasons. After finishing 10 points behind the Lingers in a tight race in 2012, Arlt and Wendl won 14 of 18 races and claimed the overall title in 2013 and 2014. Posting the fastest time at the Sanki Sliding Center in both of the two heats to determine the Olympic champion, they easily ended the Linger brothers’ dream of breaking the record and winning a third straight gold. They’ll have to settle for silver, though, which they handily secured by a third of a second over the Latvian brothers Sics.
The Latvians nearly failed to reach the podium for a second straight Olympiad. They pulled off the bronze by only five-hundredths of a second ahead of the Canadian team of Justin Snith and Tristan Walker. The Russian team of Alexander Denisyev and Vladislav Antonov were close behind, just over a second behind the winning time, to round out the top five.
Luge - Men's Doubles Medal Results