The Sochi Network

50 to watch: Dominant Geisenberger hunts elusive gold

The Sochi Network

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In the run up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Reuters is highlighting the athletes to watch during the Games.

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Few athletes have dominated their sport in recent seasons as much as German luger Natalie Geisenberger but she still longs to capture the elusive Olympic gold medal missing from her collection.

Geisenberger, the world and European champion, who leads the standings in the current season after winning the first four events in commanding style, has one bronze medal from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

But if statistics are anything to go by then gold in Sochi is all but a certainty for the Bavarian police officer and former junior world champion,

German women have monopolised Olympic luge medals, having won every gold medal since the Nagano 1998 Olympics. They have also won 10 of the last 12 medals of any colour in the last four Games.

With defending Olympic champion German Tatjana Huefner a long way from her best after only recently returning from injury, the 25-year-old Geisenberger could be forgiven for eyeing gold but she said there were no guarantees.

"I have been training very hard ahead of Sochi and obviously it would be a dream come true to be at the very top of the podium," she told Reuters before a competition in Whistler, Canada in December.

"I have been very fortunate to have reached my big goals with the bronze medal at Vancouver and last year's world championship title. So in that respect I will be pretty relaxed when I travel to Russia and I am really looking forward to the Games."

She said expectations were always high for German lugers given the country's four luge tracks, more than most other winter sports nations.

The German team is also a powerhouse in the men's competition, having won gold and silver in Vancouver.

"We have four luge tracks in Germany and that means that considerably more children are taking up the sport and have to deal with a competitive situation from very early on," said Geisenberger.

"So it will be the athletes who are prepared to undergo gruelling training who will come through. For me personally there is also the extremely valuable support of the German Federal Police," she said.

This did not, however, guarantee success in Sochi.

"In the sport of luge you can never be certain of success. The athletes who are not willing to go to the limit and even take a certain amount of risk will not win an Olympic medal," she said.

"That much is certain. I have done my homework so far and I hope I will be successful there."

The track in Sochi was initially planned to be the fastest in the world but following a training crash on the day of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics opening ceremony that led to the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, organisers have reduced the speed.

"It is correct to say that we reach a very high average speed there," Geisenberger said of the track at Sochi in a sport where athletes travel at up to 140 kilometres per hour, hurling themselves down an icy course.

"It is a demanding course and mistakes have an immediate impact on the times. But as far as I can see the track is relatively safe," she said.

As for criticism over Russia's controversial anti-gay propaganda law and the country's human rights record, Geisenberger said it was not athletes who had picked the country but the International Olympic Committee.

"In principle I am interested in political and social issues. But host cities of the Olympic Games are chosen by the IOC without athletes' involvement," she said, although several athletes are voting IOC members.

"So I am trying to put this issue out of my mind before the Games and focus full on the sports side of things."

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