Germany denied clean sweep in luge by Austria’s Gleirscher

Triumphant in all four luge events at Sochi 2014, Germany had to content themselves with three golds at PyeongChang 2018. Natalie Geisenberger retained her women’s singles title and Tobiases Arlt and Wendl did likewise in the men’s doubles, before all three combined with Johannes Ludwig to defend Germany’s team relay crown successfully. The only gold to evade the grasp of the German lugers was the men’s singles, in which former Winter Youth Olympic Games star David Gleirscher of Austria pulled off a huge surprise.

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That men’s singles competition reached a remarkable conclusion on 11 February. Leading the standings after the third run, Germany’s Felix Loch looked on course for a record-equalling third successive gold only to bump into the wall on his final run at the Alpensia Sliding Centre and lose valuable time. Loch’s untimely slip allowed Gleirscher, who went fastest on the first run, to snatch the gold ahead of the USA’s Chris Mazdzer in silver and Germany’s Johannes Ludwig, who climbed up from fifth after the first two runs to third.

“I just can’t believe it. It’s magical,” said the new Olympic champion. “I just had a good run, and I’m happy it’s worked out for me. I thought Felix was going to take the title, but he made a mistake. I’d like to thank my whole family, especially my girlfriend, my son and my coaches. We’ve spent a lot of time training and we’ve worked hard. I can’t put it into words. It’s unbelievable.” Gleirscher is only the second Austrian to win the men’s singles title, 50 years on from Manfred Schmid at Grenoble 1968.

Loch had led the competition by 0.188 seconds from Gleirscher after the first two runs, with Olympic Athlete from Russia Roman Repilov in third, just 0.001 ahead of Mazdzer. The American then moved up to second ahead of Gleirscher after the third run, only for the Austrian to respond on his final descent and put himself in position to capitalise from Loch’s unexpected mistake, which saw the defending champion drop down to fifth.

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Women’s singles: Geisenberger retains her title

Defending champion Geisenberger took the lead in the first run of the women’s singles and stayed there, topping the podium from her fellow German Dajana Eitberger and Canada’s Alex Gough, who collected her country’s first ever Olympic luge medal.

A seven-time world champion in singles and the relay, five-time European champion and reigning six-time FIL World Cup champion, the 30-year-old Geisenberger was in a league of her own at the Alpensia Sliding Centre, averaging 121.7kmh over the competition to finish fully 0.367 seconds clear of Eitberger, a considerable gap in luge. Gough was a further 0.045 further back.

The first luger to retain the women’s title since Sylke Otto at Turin 2006, Geisenberger clinched a sixth consecutive victory for German athletes in the event, a run that stretches back to Nagano 1998. “I’m happy with my race,” she said after sealing a third Olympic gold to go with her women’s singles and team relay double at Sochi 2014. “Four clean runs and another gold to go with the one I won at Sochi 2014: it’s just fantastic. I think the secret was that I steered my luge safely. I just wanted to come out of Curve 9 without touching the wall.”

“This is huge for me and the Canadian luge programme,” said Gough after her historic bronze. “We were so close in Sochi in 2014. I knew that if I could produce four consistent runs, the opportunity would be there. Crossing the line and seeing that I was behind Dajana and that I’d need a bit of help from other competitors was very tough. I think it’s pretty obvious what this means for the group and the programme. You only had to see the reaction of my team and all the people who were there.”

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Men’s doubles: Tobiases on top again

Tobias Arlt and Tobias Wendl successfully defended their men’s doubles title at PyeongChang 2018, dominating both legs of the competition to win from Austria’s Peter Penz and Georg Fischler by 0.088 seconds, with their fellow Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken over two tenths of a second further back.  “We’ve put four years of work into this competition, which is the most important one of all for us,” said Wendl. “There have been so many hours of training, blood and sweat and now we’re Olympic champions again.” 

“I can’t put into words how I feel, how we feel inside,” said Arlt. “We are Olympic champions for the second time and it just feels great. I can’t describe it.”

Team relay gold medallists at Sochi 2014 also, Arlt and Wendl were second best to Eggert and Benecken in the 2016/17 season, losing to them at the Olympic test at the Alpensia Sliding Centre, and finishing behind them in the FIL World Cup standings and at the 2017 World Championships in Innsbruck (AUT).

The two Tobiases saved their very best for PyeongChang 2018, however, going 0.071 seconds faster than the Austrians in the first run and over a tenth clear of Eggert and Benecken, and then stretching their advantage in the second to win gold with plenty to spare. “We saw the times and they were very, very fast. We took the track record,” said Arlt. “The track was in a great condition and our runs were really good too. The first one was perfect from start to finish, but we made a mistake on Curve 15 in the second. We still managed to come out on top, though.”

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Team relay: No stopping Germany

Geisenberger, Arlt and Wendl picked up the fourth Olympic gold medals of their careers when they linked up with Johannes Ludwig to win the team relay for Germany on 15 February, ahead of Canada in silver – their second medal of the Games and of all time – and Austria in bronze.

Two-time women’s singles champion Geisenberger gave her team the perfect start before handing over to men’s singles bronze medallist Ludwig, who maintained Germany’s advantage over the rest of the field, leaving Arlt and Wendl to complete the job. The German team’s combined time of two minutes, 24.517 seconds gave them victory by over three and a half tenths from the Canadian quartet of women’s singles bronze medallist Gough, Sam Edney, and Tristan Walker and Justin Sinth. Austria’s bronze medal winning sled was made up of Madeleine Egle, men’s singles champion Gleirscher, and men’s doubles silver medallists Penz and Fischler.

“It’s been a wonderful few days, just wonderful,” said Ludwig. “Two medals at my first Games – what more can I say?” Speaking after sealing Germany’s win in tandem with Wendl, Arlt said: “It was just another run, and we had to finish it off, focus and do our job, which is exactly what we did.”

“It’s brilliant to be on top of the podium again and to be getting another gold medal,” said Geisenberger. “We’ve been waiting for this moment. It’s wonderful. I had a good run, Johannes was very clean and our doubles were perfect too. Here we are at the top again.”