Reuters - Sun, 14 Feb 10:28:00 2010
World champion Felix Loch of Germany set the halfway pace in the men's luge at a scaled-down Whistler track as the Olympic sliding events began without any major scares following Friday's fatality.
A minute's silence was held before the start in memory of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili whose death in a horrific crash at the Sliding Centre cast a pall over the Games on Friday.
Sliders wore black strips on their crash helmets and coaches wore black armbands as action began on a course shortened following Kumaritashvili's 16th-corner accident which ended with him flying off the track and crumpling into a steel pillar.
Kumaritashvili's team mate Levan Gureshidze failed to start after missing the earlier training runs.
Starting from the lower women's push-off point, the 20-year-old Loch produced two smooth runs for a combined time of one minute 36.570 seconds as afternoon rain turned to snow.
"Nothing special, I just race," said Loch, whose father Norbert is the national coach. "I'll just get up in the morning and do it again."
German David Moeller, winner of a World Cup race at Whistler last year, finished 0.282 seconds behind with Sunday's decisive third and fourth runs to come.
Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, chasing a third consecutive Olympic gold, was next quickest, four tenths of a second back.
Pony-tailed Russian veteran Albert Demtschenko, second behind Zoeggeler in Turin four years ago, was also in contention after moving into fourth place with a strong second slide.
Friday's tragic events forced the International Luge Federation and Games organisers VANOC to make alterations to the course despite them saying that it was safe.
Sliders began from the woman's start, which effectively knocked two corners off the track, while the ice profile of the 16th corner was changed and the retaining wall on the exit to the curve raised. Rubber padding was also evident on the metal roof supports along the finishing straight.
American Tony Benshoof, who ended the day seventh, said the track changes had played into the hands of the Germans.
"I was kind of bummed that they moved it down but that's the decisions they made and I have to go with it," he said.
"By lowering the start to the ladies it's a much slower start, it's much flatter, and that plays into the hands of the fast starters who are the Germans."
All the sliders finished their runs although there were occasional gasps of alarm from the spectators who braved a filthy night to grab vantage points.
American Bengt Walden went dangerously high on one corner and momentarily lost control during his first run while Switzerland's Stefan Hoehener made a remarkable recovery after falling off his sled on the approach to 16 before re-mounting to cheers from fans in the home straight.
Brit AJ Rosen goes into the second day in 16th place.
I thought I slid really well today, I'm feeling pretty good, he said. I had two really good runs. I guess the times could have been a bit better, but overall I'm happy with my performance."
Follow the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport HD (Sky 412). British Eurosport channels are streamed online via the Eurosport Player.