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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

Jamaican bobsledders want to return to the Olympics, so they’re pushing a Mini Cooper

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The Jamaican bobsled team’s push for the next Winter Olympics took a detour to the roads of Great Britain.

Numerous British media outlets reported in the last week on Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott, who have been pushing cars, including a Mini Cooper, in Peterborough.

“We had to come up with our own ways of replicating the sort of pushing we need to do [in bobsledding amid the coronavirus pandemic],” Stephens, a reported British resident since age 11, said, according to Reuters. “So that’s why we thought: why not go out and push the car?

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

The Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian. A Jamaican men’s sled just missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Stephens, a driver, is 51st and 56th in the current world rankings for the four-person and two-man events, respectively.

He competed in lower-level international races last season with a best finish of sixth in a four-person race that had seven sleds. One of Stephens’ push athletes was Carrie Russell, a 2018 Olympian in the two-woman event and former sprinter who won a world title in the 4x100m in 2013.

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MORE: Sam Clayton, Jamaica’s first bobsled driver, was ‘a pioneer of pioneers’

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and a Tour de France rivalry that brought tears

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich
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Lance Armstrong reportedly breaks down into tears in Sunday’s second episode of his ESPN documentary, discussing his closest rival during his run of seven Tour de France titles, all later stripped for doping.

Armstrong visited Jan Ullrich in Germany in 2018, after Ullrich was released from a psychiatric hospital following multiple reported arrests over assault charges.

“The reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong said, followed by tears, according to reports. “It was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life.”

Ullrich struggled with reported substance abuse, saying in a 2018 letter in German newspaper Bild that he detoxed in a Miami facility and that he had “an illness.”

Ullrich, after winning the 1997 Tour de France, finished second to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

He retired in 2007. In 2013, he admitted to doping during his career (which had been widely assumed), five months after Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early,” Armstrong said in the ESPN film, according to Cycling Weekly. “He got me up early. And [in 2018] he was just a f—ing mess.”

Armstrong and Ullrich’s most notable Tour de France interactions: In Stage 10 in 2001, on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59.

In Stage 15 in 2003, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement. Ullrich and others slowed to allow Armstrong to remount and catch up. Armstrong won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07, eventually winning the Tour by 1:01, by far the closest of his seven titles (again, all later stripped).

For Armstrong, Ullrich began transforming from rival to friend in 2005. After Armstrong won his last (later stripped) Tour de France that July, he was told Ullrich wanted to show up at Armstrong’s victory party in a luxury Paris hotel. Ullrich wanted to say a few words in front of hundreds of Armstrong supporters.

“If you know Jan, you know that his English is not great,” Armstrong said in a 2017 episode of one of his podcasts. “I’m just going, no, this can’t be happening. This is not real. Jan showed up and took the mic and gave a speech and talked about me and talked about us. It was the classiest thing that anybody ever did for me in my cycling career. I’ll never forget it. I love him for it.

“I wasn’t man enough to do that. If the roles were reversed, there’s no way I would have done that. But for him to do that, that’s something that I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

In 2017, Armstrong was upset that Ullrich wasn’t invited to appear at the Tour de France’s opening stages, held in Germany that year. In 2013, when Ullrich fessed up to doping, he said of his chief rival and fellow cheater, “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.”

Ullrich (and other dopers) kept his Tour de France title, a fact that Armstrong has brought up in interviews since his confession. Ullrich was reportedly asked in 2016 by CyclingTips if he considered Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France champion.

“This is a hard question,” he said, according to the report. “It’s not good, that in all those years, you have no winner. It’s not good for history, it’s not good for the Tour de France. I have heard all the stories about Lance. It’s a hard question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not the judge. But for the history of the Tour de France, it’s not good that there is no winner.”

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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