How luge legend Felix Loch reawakened the beast within

The triple Olympic champion suffered a slump in form after an uncharismatic mistake at PyeongChang 2018, but through a change in technology and mindset, the German machine returned better than ever.

By Andrew Binner
Picture by GETTY IMAGES +491728296845 (GETTY IMAGES +491728296845 (Photographer) - [None] (GETTY IMAGES +491728296845 (GETTY IMAGES +491728296845 (Photographer) - [None] (Photographer) - [None]

There is a new fire burning within Felix Loch ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The German is already considered a luge legend, having won three Olympic gold medals at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.

But an uncharacteristic mistake by the PyeongChang 2018 favourite four years ago meant that he left Korea medalless. Images of the distraught athlete with his head literally in his hands on the track spoke volumes.

That disappointment seemed to signify the end the dominance of the 13-time world champion, who struggled to even make the podium for the next two seasons.

However, there is an old sporting cliche, that ‘Form is temporary, but class is permanent’. And so it proved that Loch roared back to the top table of luge in 2020/21, putting on one of the most dominant World Cup seasons in history.

The message going into Beijing 2022 is clear: Loch wants his Olympic title back.

MORE: Olympic luge at Beijing 2022 - Top things to know

Felix Loch: Like father, like son

Luge is in the Loch DNA.

Felix's father Norbert competed in the sport at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics, before becoming head coach of the German national team.

“I was born into it,” Loch Jr. told T Online. “My grandfather was already active as a trainer, my father was in luge and my mother also took part. Even as a small child I was on the track and of course I wanted to try it out. I had a lot of fun luging from an early age and the results were also good.”

Those results included two singles junior world titles in 2006 and 2007.

A year later, an 18-year-old Loch became luge’s youngest ever world champion on home snow in Oberhof.

In 2019, the east German set a new world luge speed record of 153.9kmh at Canada's Whistler Sliding Centre – the same venue where at Vancouver 2010 he posted the fastest time in each of the four legs of the Olympic competition. As a result he became, aged 20, the youngest ever gold medallist.

Over the course of his early senior career, Loch engaged in some legendary duels with Italian six-time Olympic medallist Armin Zoeggeler. The Italian finally hung up his luge helmet after the Sochi 2014 Olympics - won by Loch - but in truth, the German had overtaken his rival well before then.

But did having a father in the national set up mean that Loch also received preferential treatment?

"No," he continued. "My father and I agreed that we should separate personal and professional matters. I am part of the team like any other driver, there is no family bonus. The 2018 Olympics are the best example. Johannes Ludwig was faster than me in the individual competition, so he was allowed to start in the team competition."

An uncharacteristic mistake on the biggest stage

Loch went into the PyeongChang Winter Olympics as the outstanding favourite to defend his singles title, and to match his coach Georg Hackl’s record of winning three-consecutive Olympic gold medals.

Everything was going according to plan. He led after three attempts, but in the final run he hit a wall, which consigned him to fifth position.

The images of his father, who had been the first to celebrate with his son on the track after his Sochi 2014 triumph, running over this time to console his distraught son on the ice told the whole story.

He urged his son to adopt a philosophical view on what had happened:

“At home your son [then-1-year-old Lorence], and your wife [Lisa] is waiting for you,” Norbert told him. “Next year it will be gone.”

That moment had a deep knock-on effect on the luge super hero, who previously seemed invincible.

Loch secured just five podium finishes - including one victory - in the following two World Cup seasons. You could even argue that he had lost his spot as Germany’s top men’s luger during this period, with Johannes Ludwig - winner of the Olympic singles bronze and mixed team gold in PyeongChang - finishing well above Loch in the 2019-20 overall standings.

In fact, 2020 marked the first season in which Loch had failed to win a World Cup or world championships race since 2007.

Felix Loch is consoled by his father Norbert after a mistake meant that he failed to podium at PyeongChang 2018.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Felix Loch: I was the pilot again!

Despite this disappointing run of World Cup form, there were glimpses of the old Loch. At the 2019 World Championships, for example, he secured a sixth singles world championships title, tying Zoggeler‘s record. But no one expected what was to come.

Loch decided to literally rebuild his foundations that summer.

Together with Hackl, they made small changes to his sled. Whether it was an amazing feat of engineering, or the change needed to improve Loch’s mental space, it did the trick.

"We took two or three steps back. We started the preparation with many options and tried a lot,” he told Sportbuzzer. “The perfect settings for the sled soon emerged and I performed very well with them on the track. That gave me security because I knew that the sled would react the way I wanted it to. I was the pilot again!”

The 32-year-old won an astonishing nine events out of 12 in the 2020/21, dominating competition in a way that has rarely been seen in luge.

“I know every time I can be fast, but over the last two years, sometimes only one run was good, the second run was bad,” Loch told NBC. “No two runs worked together, or only in the training was good. But I didn’t forget about how to compete in the luge. I was always in a better situation than other guys think about. I was relaxed, and I know I can slide, and now everybody, I would say, can say I didn’t forget about how to do it.”

It was a stark reminder that even multiple Olympic champions need to continue evolving in order to stay at the top

German strength ahead of Beijing 2022

Being the best at a sliding sport in Germany often means being best in the world, such is the high level of domestic competition and engineering knowledge.

Despite Loch discovering his best form, his old teammate and rival Ludwig began 2021 with a significant statement of intent in winning the opening World Cup event of the season in Yanqing, China, which also doubled as the Beijing 2022 test event. That said, 32-year-old Loch would have remained quietly confident with his second-place finish.

And there may be more to come yet.

Loch recently told Sportbuzzer:

"The 2026 Olympics are my goal. After Beijing 2022 I will reassess year by year how I am feeling physically and health-wise in general. Age-wise the 2026 Games are doable and it is a nice goal. It would be the fitting end to my career."

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