Toboggan ace Loch must tame Beijing’s ‘flying snow dragon’

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Yanqing (China) (AFP) – The sliding events of the Beijing Winter Olympics get off to a flying start on Saturday when Germany’s Felix Loch tries to make history in men’s luge.

The track at the Yanqing National Sliding Center, nestled in the mountains north of Beijing, has earned the nickname “the flying snow dragon” with competitors set to speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour). ).

Thundering down the 1.9 kilometer (1.2 mile) ice track subjects their bodies to average G-forces of 3G, reaching 5G in the corners, similar to what a Formula 1 driver experiences.

Luge, where competitors move feet first, is slightly more aerodynamic and therefore faster than skeleton, its head-first gliding event which begins on February 10.

The high speeds of luge events can command the highest price.

Tragedy struck at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia died after losing control during luge practice.

– “Fear motivates” –

The danger in Yanqing last October was brought to life at the right time when Mateusz Sochowicz of Poland fractured his kneecap after falling during a test event on the Olympic track.

“Fear motivates and does not paralyze, so even if it appears, I will face it and gradually rebuild my confidence by riding a ‘snow dragon’,” Sochowicz said ahead of his return to Beijing.

Medals will be decided by split-second decisions.

The four men’s luge runs culminate with medals decided on Sunday, with the women’s singles, doubles and team relay to follow in the following days.

World Cup winner Johannes Ludwig of Germany and reigning Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria are among the favorites for gold in the solo event.

Austrian David Gleirscher is the reigning Olympic champion in men’s luge WANG Zhao AFP/File

Four years ago at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, a costly mistake in the final run prevented Loch, an Olympic champion in 2010 and 2014, from scoring a hat-trick of gold medals.

A third Olympic singles gold after Sunday’s fourth and final run would put Loch level with German luge legend Georg Hackl, who holds the Olympic record.

Despite suffering from Covid-19 in December, Loch has managed five podium finishes during the World Cup season, including a victory last month in Latvia.

Loch flew to Beijing after overcoming a neck problem which he said ‘may be related to the (Covid) virus’ and made running ‘difficult when you have to go down the track at around 120 kilometers per hour “.

“Take risks”

The veteran said he wanted to be in the heart of the medal fight.

“You have to extract the last drop of speed from every race, you have to take risks,” he added.

The Germans are bringing a strong luge team to China.

Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt are bidding to win the men’s doubles and team events for the third consecutive Olympics after winning gold medals in Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang four years ago.

“We’ve been good friends and have been running together for 20 years – we’ve probably spent more time together in hotel rooms than with our wives,” joked Wendl, a soldier in the German army.

They’ve known each other since childhood, which “really helps, to have that confidence you need on a two-man sled.”

Their teammate Natalie Geisenberger also has four Olympic gold medals to her credit following singles and team victories in Sochi and Pyeongchang.

The 33-year-old, the most decorated female luge athlete in Olympics history, was crowned European champion last month in her first season after becoming a mother.

However, Germany’s Julia Taubitz, 25, is the name to beat in women’s singles as the reigning 2021 world champion and World Cup winner this season.

Julia Taubitz is the winner of the overall women's World Cup this winter in luge
Julia Taubitz is the winner of the overall women’s World Cup this winter in luge Johann GRODER APA/AFP/File

“It’s my first Olympics, so I’m not putting pressure on the favorites, I just want to do my best and see what happens,” Taubitz said.

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