(AP) — There’s some sort of mystical power when it comes to Germany and luge.
Germany has more sliding tracks than any other nation, plus always seems to be ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology and any other innovation that can be used to get a sled down the ice faster than anyone else.
Nowhere has that dominance been on display than the Olympics.
There have been six nations with an Olympic gold medal in luge. Germany, East Germany and West Germany have combined for 31 golds in Olympic luge events, while the rest of the world has 13. Italy has seven, Austria five and the Soviet Union won one.
“We’re always under pressure,” German doubles star Sascha Benecken said. “But the pressure we put on ourselves is much tougher.”
USA Luge has made great strides in recent years, and comes into these Olympics bolstered by Remsen native Erin Hamlin’s bronze medal at the Sochi Games four years ago. The doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman could be in the medal mix as well, and men’s sliders Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer have had plenty of finishes that show they can compete with anyone.
Hamlin closes her career on Feb. 13, when the women’s luge competition concludes. She is retiring after two decades of sliding.
Austria, Italy, Canada and Latvia should also contend for medals.
The wild card would be the lugers from Russia, some of whom have results that suggest they would be medal contenders — if permitted to compete. Russia will not have a team at these Olympics because of the doping fallout from the Sochi Games, though some athletes from that nation will be allowed to be in Pyeongchang under the Olympic flag. In men’s luge, Germany, where Felix Loch is going for a third straight win. In women’s luge, Germany, where Natalie Geisenberger will seek repeat gold. In doubles luge, Germany again. And in the team relay, let’s say Germany. Put it this way: If any other national anthem gets played to commemorate a gold medalist after a luge race in Pyeongchang, it’s going to be called an upset.
There was a time not long ago, where the best rivalry in the sport probably was the every-race-weekend battle between Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner. From the same country, they were coached separately and had distinctly different styles. Their relationship seems to be nowhere near as frosty now, but the rivalry will be real again in South Korea.
The only difference in Olympic competition from World Cup racing is in men’s and women’s singles, where the event is four runs over two days instead of the customary two-heat, one-day format. Doubles is still a two-run, one-day race, and the team relay format also is unchanged from the World Cup norm.
Aileen Frisch used to compete for Germany, and retired a couple years ago but is now back with an unusual story. She’s likely to compete in these Olympics for South Korea. The host nation, which doesn’t have a storied luge history, offered her a passport with hopes of bolstering its sliding profile. Frisch trained for several weeks after sustaining a foot and leg injury earlier this season.