Reuters - Mon, 15 Feb 02:31:00 2010
World champion Felix Loch confirmed himself as the next great German slider when he stormed to gold in the men's Olympic luge competition.
The 20-year-old police officer ousted double Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler from his throne, repeating his dominance of Saturday's opening runs at the Whistler Sliding Centre to complete two more inch-perfect slides.
As torrential rain gave way to dazzling Alpine sunshine, Loch's class shone through and cowbells and music greeted him in the finish area as he hugged father and coach Norbert.
Loch, who is the youngest ever winner of the men's singles, opened a gap of half a second over Moeller after the third run and nailed his fourth through the so called "Gold Rush Trail" to win by 0.679 seconds from compatriot David Moeller.
Zoeggeler's dreams of a third successive Olympic gold medal to match the feat of former German master slider Georg Hackl evaporated but his bronze means the 36-year-old has now made the podium in five consecutive Games.
The joyous mood at the finish was in stark contast to the sombre build-up to the first sliding event of the Games in the aftermath of the horrific high-speed training accident that killed Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday.
"I had a good sled and in these conditions with mild temperatures that took me halfway through," Loch said. "I will need two or three hours to realise what's happened. I knew I had a good run but this is unbelievable.
"What happened (on Friday) was very hard for all of us and it was the right decision to move the start to the ladies."
Zoeggeler said the future belonged to Loch.
"He's only 20, he's a great talent. If you're looking for the future big name in luge, stop looking," Zoeggeler, almost certainly at his last Olympics, said.
"I'm just glad that I made the podium."
Already a double world champion, this season's World Cup winner, and now Olympic champion, Loch looks capable of ripping up the record books.
Hackl, now a coach on the German team, said he has watched Loch rise from a wide-eyed little boy to an athlete destined to wear the crown he once owned.
"It's very satisfying," Hackl said after watching his prodigy sweep round the final corner and up the finishing straight before punching the air with delight.
"I noticed this little guy since when he couldn't even look over the table in the sled working room and he was always with his father who was the coach in my home town."
After Friday's fatal crash, which was marked by a small shrine next to the finishing straight, Luge Federation chiefs had lowered the start of the men's race to the women's push-off despite insisting the track was safe.
Speeds were around 10 percent down on what is considered normal at the world's fastest track but Loch's technical skills proved masterful as he left Zoeggeler in the shade.
Already a double world champion and this season's World Cup winner, there was little doubt as Loch sped gracefully round the final Thunderbird curve that Germany had found a worthy successor to Hackl.
Britain's Adam Rosen went into the fourth and final run in 15th place. Had he managed to climb one further position on the final run he would have been the highest placed British slider in the luge in Olympic history.
But his final run time of 48.856 seconds meant he just missed out on the feat. His 16th place finish equalled his performance in Turin.
"There have been some ups and downs, but overall I'm really happy with my performance. The times are so close between the sliders, it was just fractions of a second."
And he said there's still a lot more to come from him in the sport. "A lot of the top lugers are in their 30s and I'm only 25, so there's still a long time for me go yet. I'm going to get faster for Sochi 2014."
Factbox on Loch:
Place of birth: Sonneberg, Germany
Residence: Schonau Am Konigssee, Germany
No previous Olympic results:
Career achievements: 2x gold medallist, 2009, 2008 World Championships, singles
2x gold medallist, 2009, 2008 World Championships, team relay
Third place, 2009/10 World Cup, singles
Loch, a police officer, was 18 when he became the youngest athlete to win the mens's singles at the the 2008 World Championships. In November the same year, he tore two ligaments in his shoulder while training in Whistler,
Coached by his father, Norbert, Loch beat double Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler to win in Vancouver and become the youngest ever winner of the men's singles luge.
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