Reuters - Wed, 17 Feb 04:14:00 2010
Tatjana Huefner woke up from a nap before scorching to gold in the Olympic women's luge event as Germany maintained its iron grip on the sport.
Just as Felix Loch had done in the men's race, Huefner found a perfect line down a shortened Whistler track to extend her overnight lead and win by a comfortable 0.49 seconds.
Huefner, a bronze medallist in Turin but a major flop at last year's world championships, wore a steely gaze at the start of her decisive fourth run and 41 seconds later was punching the air with delight before leaping into the arms of her coach.
German women have been virtually unbeatable in luge over the past decade but Austria's Nina Reithmayer made sure it was not a third Olympic "eins-zwei-drei" in succession by snatching the silver medal - her best career result.
Natalie Geisenberger was third despite a two-minute delay before her final run after a photographer accidentally knelt on a switch that sent water spurting on to the track.
But the day was all about her 26-year-old team-mate who was disappointing in Monday's first run but then just went faster and faster.
"I was a bit nervous before my last run but I managed to sleep a little bit and after that I was fine," Huefner, a keen climber who last year ascended the Matterhorn, said.
"The start was difficult, especially for us Germans because the start times are our main strength but in the end it was okay. I came here to win and I made it....it's a dream."
Her fan club was drowned out by pink-wigged Americans cheering on world champion Erin Hamlin and the raucous Canadians there to watch Alex Gough and Regan Lauscher but on the ice she had no equal as she added Olympic gold to her World Cup title.
Hamlin, who halted the German machine by winning the world Championships in Lake Placid last year, finished a distant 16th, one place behind Lauscher.
Neither came to grips with a tricky starting point which had been lowered in the wake of last week's accident which killed Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili.
"We've got the world championships here in a few years so hopefully we can actually have a race," Gough said.
Hamlin, failed to come to grips with a tricky start sending sliders straight into a left-hand corner without any time to build speed.
"A winner is a winner and it's still a race but it's a bummer because we prepared for so long for a whole different race," Hamlin added.
"It's been really up and down, mostly down," Canada's Meaghan Simister, who placed 25th, said when asked how she had coped with the tragedy. "Every time you go through corner 16 you think about it."
Thankfully there were no major crashes although there were gasps from the crowd and fellow athletes when Slovakia's Jana Sisajova lost control and was thrown from her sled on the approach to 50-50 corner before re-mounting.
Whatever track they slid down Huefner would have won gold and Sylke Otto, champion in the last two Games and who belongs to the same sports club as Huefner, was impressed with what she saw.
"It makes me wish I wasn't retired," she said. "Tatti is a very strong slider and still relatively young so she could achieve what I did and win this again."
Factbox on Huefner:
Place of birth: Neuruppin, Germany
Residence: Blankenburg, Germany
Previous Olympic results:
Bronze medallist, 2006 Winter Olympics
2x gold medallist, 2008 World Championships, singles, team relay
Gold medallist, 2007 World Championships, singles
3x champion, 2009/10, 2008/09, 2007/08 World Cup, singles
Runner-up, 2006/07 World Cup, singles
Huefner started competing in the luge in 1992 when she was nine-years-old because her younger brother had taken up the sport.
Nicknamed "Tatti", she serves in the army and is educated in psychology. She has also been coaching Toboggan since 2003.
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