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Germany looks set to sweep Olympic luge golds again

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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.

Six nations own Olympic gold medals in luge.

Germany, East Germany and West Germany combined for 31 Olympic luge titles, 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 made great strides in recent years, and comes into these Olympics bolstered by 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 male sliders Tucker West and Chris Mazdzer have had plenty of finishes that show they can compete with anyone.

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.

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Here’s some of what to know going into luge in PyeongChang:

MEDAL FAVORITES
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.

BEST RIVALRY
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.

RISING STARS
Summer Britcher is in her second Olympics. Emily Sweeney her first, but neither is new to the world stage. Both Americans could be in the medal hunt if they avoid a big mistake. If allowed to compete, Russia’s Roman Repilov might be the newcomer to watch on the men’s side. Only 21, he’s already won a World Cup overall title. Fairly or unfairly, because of Russia’s history, there’s no shortage of skepticism about his rapid rise.

NEW ERA
For the first time since 1984, the Olympic men’s luge medalists will not include either Germany’s Georg Hackl or Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler. Hackl won silver in 1988, gold in 1992, 1994 and 1998, then silver again in 2002. Zoeggeler won bronze in 1994, silver in 1998, gold in 2002 and 2006, bronze in 2010 and finished third in 2014 (though that will eventually be upgraded to silver because Albert Demchenko’s medal was stripped as part of the Russia doping scandal). Hackl and Zoeggeler now are coaches for their respective nations.

RULE CHANGES
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.

DON’T MISS
Hamlin, a four-time Olympian, is retiring after these Olympics, following two decades of sliding.

OLYMPIAN EFFORT
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.

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MORE: Full U.S. Olympic luge team

Medal projection: Germany tops PyeongChang Olympic standings

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TOKYO (AP) — It’s still unclear how many Russian athletes will compete in the PyeongChang Olympics, but a few things seem certain.

Athletes from winter powers like Germany and Norway could pick up unexpected medals with some top Russians absent because of a massive doping scheme four years ago at the Sochi Games.

One medal forecast for Pyeongchang, compiled by Gracenote Sports, which refers to itself as a “sports and entertainment provider,” shows the impact if Russian athletes are missing.

Gracenote released its medal-table projection Wednesday, this time removing all Russians from the calculation.

The U.S.-based company said it would release a final prediction just before the Olympics open Feb. 9, this time including Russians who are known to be eligible and who will compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia,” or OAR.

Their participation, of course, would cut into the medal haul of other strong nations.

The Russian Olympic Committee said in December that “more than 200” athletes will meet the qualifying criteria.

However, the final decision, barring appeals to the based-Swiss Court of Arbitration for Sport, will be in the hands of an IOC commission — the Fourneyron Commission.

Germany and Norway are the big winners without Russia.

Gracenote forecasts Germany would win five extra medals, followed by Norway with four.

Canada, France and Japan would pick up two extra medals. Finland, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands would get one each.

Germany’s extra haul would push its medal-leading total to 40 — 14 gold, 12 silver and 14 bronze. Norway is next with 37 overall, but it would take 14 gold to tie Germany in that department.

Canada is predicted to take third place with 33 overall, followed by the United States (29) and France (24).

— If Germany wins 40 medals, it would be the country’s most successful total since 2002 in Salt Lake City. Biathlon will net Germany’s largest haul with 10 medals.

— These could be record-setting games for Norway, which has never won more than 29 overall. Norway is forecast to win a whopping 19 medals in cross-country skiing alone.

— Canada and the United States are forecast to win medals in 10 of the 15 sports at the Winter Games: Alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, luge, Nordic combined, short-track speed skating, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboarding, speedskating.

— France also is on a record-setting pace, predicted to win 24 medals — nine over its record total in Sochi.

To calculate its predictions, Gracenote weighs results in recent world championships and other world-class events, giving more weight to the most recent.

At the Rio Olympics, Gracenote compiled a top-five list in every discipline.

It said 80 percent of the eventual medalists came from these lists. It is expecting similar results for PyeongChang.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics

Russian 15-year-old wins Grand Prix Final; U.S. gets ice dance bronze

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Russian women went one-two in the Grand Prix Final, even without their superstar.

Alina Zagitova, the 15-year-old training partner of injured world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, won the biggest pre-Olympic competition this season in Nagoya, Japan, on Saturday.

Zagitova, the world junior champion undefeated in her first senior season, scored a personal-best 223.20 points to win the prestigious six-skater event.

Zagitova landed seven triple jumps with only minor errors, ranking only behind Medvedeva in top scores this season. Medvedeva withdrew before the Grand Prix Final, which she won the last two years, with a broken foot.

Zagitova prevailed by 6.92 points over countrywoman Maria Sotskova, all but assuring they will join Medvedeva on Russia’s three-woman Olympic team named later this winter. Assuming an IOC panel selects them.

Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond was third. No U.S. women qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year.

Grand Prix Final: Full Scores | Full Season TV Schedule

In ice dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron broke the world record total score for a third straight time in beating Canadian training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for the first time.

Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champs, tallied 202.16 points and have broken 200 points three times. No other couple has done it once.

Virtue and Moir, who won gold and silver at the last two Olympics and were undefeated in their comeback season a year ago, matched their personal best with 199.86.

U.S. couples went third, fourth and fifth, led by national champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who took their second straight Grand Prix Final bronze medal.

They did so with their lowest score of the season, a distant 14.16 points behind the French.

“It was not the performance we wanted to have today, unfortunately,” Alex Shibutani said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “We felt pretty good this week overall, and there was a lot of stuff that we made progress on, but I just had issues with the twizzles this week. That’s very uncharacteristic of me.”

The Shibutani siblings and fourth- and fifth-place finishers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are massive favorites to make up the three-couple U.S. Olympic team named after nationals in January.

German pair Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot pulled off the only surprise of the Grand Prix Final, toppling the world champions from China with the highest free skate score under a 13-year-old points system.

Savchenko, born in Ukraine, and Massot, born in France, didn’t officially become eligible to represent Germany at the Olympics until Massot finalized his citizenship last month.

They totaled the third-highest score ever, 236.68 points. Only the 2014 Olympic champions — Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov of Russia — have been better.

China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were undefeated since returning from Sui’s ankle and foot surgeries in February, took silver, 5.79 points behind the Germans.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, took bronze. No Americans were in the field.

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Grand Prix Final Results
Women
Gold: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 223.20
Silver: Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 216.28
Bronze: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 215.16
4. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 214.65
5. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 213.49
6. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 202.11

Ice Dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 202.16 WR

Silver: Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 199.86
Bronze: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 187.4
5. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 187.15
6. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 185.23

Pairs
Gold: Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 236.68

Silver: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 230.89
Bronze: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 210.83
4. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 209.26
5. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 208.73
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 207.14

Men (from Friday)
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 286.51
Silver: Shoma Uno (JPN) — 286.01

Bronze: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 282.00
4. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 266.59
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 254.33
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 253.81