Four-time luge Olympic champion Natalie Geisenberger: My life as a mother and history-maker

As the most decorated female luge athlete in Olympic history, Germany’s Geisenberger is now ready for her biggest challenge to date: winning Olympic gold as a mother. This is her inspiring story.

6 min By Andrew Binner
(Picture by 2018 Getty Images)

Natalie Geisenberger is at peace as she takes on arguably the biggest challenge of her stellar luge career to date: retaining two luge Winter Olympic gold medals as a mother.

After winning the most recent of her nine world titles in 2019, the German sliding star gave birth to son Leo and took the entire 2019-2020 season off.

“It’s a big challenge,” Geisenberger told reporters after returning to the sport earlier in this year. “But of course the other years before were also not so easy. I can’t compare [to past years] because the situation is completely different now.”

A four-time Olympic champion, with a secure legacy in the sport, and the most decorated Olympic female luge athlete ever, the Munich-born athlete approaches this newest challenge without the burden of needing to prove anything.

“I no longer put pressure on myself,” she told Sportbild. “I have achieved everything and am at peace with myself. I don't have to win any more races, but I'm still very happy about good results. Success cannot be planned, let alone success at the Olympic Games.”

Making Olympic dreams come true

Geisenberger is the authority when it comes to success in luge.

Her senior career started as a 19-year-old in 2008, and after winning the singles world title for the first time in 2013, as well as her second Team relay crown, the prodigy was quickly earmarked as the favourite to land two Olympic golds at Sochi 2014.

Despite the young athlete's obvious talent, this understandably put an enormous amount of pressure on her shoulders.

“Before the 2014 Olympics, I knew anything but gold would have been a disappointment.”

“I was the top favorite and had won almost all the races beforehand. The pressure that was on me was tough.”

But she stepped up to the occasion magnificently, landing singles and team relay gold.

“It was a childhood dream that came true, and when I looked at the scoreboard after the fourth run and saw that I am now actually an Olympic champion, it was an indescribable feeling,” she said to Sportbild. “As an athlete, to finally achieve my lifelong dream could hardly be put into words. All of the hard work and hardship of the years before have been worth it. You can't beat that.”

A household name in Germany

Germany takes sliding sports seriously, and Geisenberger’s early achievements were rewarded with a variety of opportunities away from the ice.

She was invited to appear on TV shows and even brought the DFB Cup trophy onto the pitch ahead of the final - a major honour at a key men's domestic football competition in Germany.

But being the focus of attention in this capacity didn’t come naturally to the athlete.

“I had to learn to deal with it first,” she said of her new-found fame. “You can say that I don’t like to be the centre of attention. Of course days like the DFB Cup final are a great honour for me. Being on TV has also become a lot of fun for me. They are new, great and interesting experiences, and you get to know a lot of new people.”

The fame came with some strange requests too.

“I am very happy when I can inspire others with what I do or have achieved. But I had to get used to the fact that I should always have a couple of autograph cards with me,” she said. "Once during the summer I was asked in the swimming pool if I had an autograph card with me. But of course I really didn't have one in my bikini!”

Natalie Geisenberger: in a league of her own.
Natalie Geisenberger: in a league of her own. (2021 Getty Images)

Becoming the women’s luge GOAT

If anyone thought that increased media obligations and fame would distract the Olympic champ from her mission on the ice, they were to be mistaken.

Over the next four years Geisenberger dominated competition like never before. She defended both Olympic titles at PyeongChang 2018, and to date has landed eight overall luge World Cup crowns, nine world titles and six European championships.

Her secret? Doing the basics correctly, and having the right people around her.

“It's a puzzle made up of different pieces,” she revealed. “It's the physical requirements, the will, the support of the family, the coach support, the equipment, medical care, and I probably have a certain talent!”

Being from Germany is also a huge advantage.

For starters, there is the deep knowledge base of their coaches, sophisticated programmes, and unrivalled investment into equipment.

And while competition for places on their national team is always intense, regular races against the likes of now-retired Olympic champion Tatjana Hufner and reigning world champion Julia Taubitz has kept Geisenberger sharp and motivated throughout her career.

Returning to the top as a mother

Despite sitting out for a full season of competition in 2019/20, Geisenberger came back to the sport with a bang.

Just nine months after giving birth, the German ice queen won her eighth overall Luge World Cup title in the 2020/21 season, and landed silver at the World Championships on her home track Konigssee.

She claimed two victories that season and finished runner-up nine times.

Geisenberger was even was even aided by the coronavirus pandemic, which ensured that the entire World Cup took place in Europe, meaning that she could take part in every race.

“This success was actually unthinkable for me”

"If someone had told me in the summer that I would win the overall World Cup as well as a silver medal at the World Championships, I would have taken it immediately," Geisenberger said.

"I can be very proud of how it all went. Not only athletically, but that I am also suited as a mother.”

However, Geisenberger wasn’t best pleased with some of the media coverage of her achievements.

“I was really satisfied with my second places, but to read, ‘She only finished second,’ it was so negative. That was not so great for me. … I’m happy that topic is over.”

Natalie Geisenberger: Everything now is an encore

Despite still working her way back to peak form, the 33-year-old proved that she was still one of the world’s best, and her next challenge was set: the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Her Konigssee silver, and 2020/21 World Cup overall title inevitably led to fresh media speculation that reigning Olympic champ could be favourite to win Olympic gold once more.

But Geisenberger won’t put that pressure on herself again, and is instead focussing on enjoying this moment.

“I've achieved everything I wanted to achieve,” she said. “It's a lot easier for me because everything that's coming now is an encore. I can already look back on a very good career. It’s super nice to see photos from 2014 again, 2018, and to look at the medals, these are still goosebumps moments.”

“I said I will stop finally after 2018. And here I am!”

Geisenberger loves nothing more than a challenge, and has a habit of making the unlikely seem possible. Don’t rule out this German star mother competing for top honours for years to come.

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