Germany's Loch wins men's luge gold
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By TOM WITHERS
WHISTLER, British Columbia — Felix Loch blazed across the finish line, dropped his feet to the track and pulled back on the front runners to brake his speedy sled, spraying ice in every direction. The gangly German punched the frosty air in triumph.
Finally, luge could celebrate.
Loch, gliding safely through the final curve where a fellow Olympian tragically died just two days earlier, easily won his first gold medal yesterday and brought brief but needed comfort to a sport rocked by criticism that it put performance above protection of its athletes.
The 20-year-old Loch finished his four heats in 3 minutes, 13.085 seconds, well ahead of teammate David Moeller (3:13.764) and Italy's Armin Zoeggeler (3:14.375), the 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion who added a fifth medal to his collection.
Officials, under pressure after 21-year-old Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a practice crash Friday, shortened the track by moving the starts down the mountain. The alteration worked to slow the sleds, but the changes may have tilted the balance of competition.
American Tony Benshoof, who finished eighth, understood the reasoning behind moving the start and respected the decision, but that didn't mean he liked it.
"This was a big letdown," said Benshoof, who spent two years preparing for a steep start at Whistler. "This was my track. It is my track. I excel at high speeds and high risk. Unfortunately, they lowered the start and it's like running the downhill men's ski race down a bunny hill. It's a whole different deal. But I'm not making excuses. We all had the same situation."
For Loch, who has trained in BMW's wind tunnels, it didn't matter where he started.
He was fastest, by far.
Born in Koenigssee, his country's sliding capital, the 20-year-old returned Germany to luge's summit by dethroning Zoeggeler, who was attempting to match German luging legend Georg Hackl's record of winning gold in three straight Olympic games.
Loch, already a two-time world champion, is the youngest luge Olympic gold medalist in history. Fellow German Dettlef Gunther was 21 when he won gold at the Innsbruck Games in 1976. Hackl, now a coach on the German team, won his first as a 25-year-old at the 1992 Albertville Games.
Loch entered the final run with such a big lead only an accident could stop him from a place on the podium.
"It was so great," he said. "When I was in (turn) 16, I knew it was a good run. It was so great. I think it'll take two hours, three hours, I don't know ... to sink in, it was unbelievable. It's so great to win here."