KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Furiously fast and fluid, Felix Loch is an Olympic gold medalist again.
And at 24, he’s only just begun.
Germany’s newest luging lord locked up the title he won four years ago in Vancouver on Sunday by easily beating a field of racers he left in his icy wake. Loch completed four runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track in 3 minutes, 27.562 seconds – 0.476 seconds ahead of Russia’s Albert Demchenko, who won the silver in his seventh Olympics.
Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler won the bronze, giving him a record six in six games.
Loch arrived at the Sochi Games expected to win. It seemed to be a mere formality that he would add another gold medal to Germany’s cache of Olympic hardware.
He dominated and delivered.
“Unbelievable. It’s so crazy for me,” Loch said. “I don’t have any words, but yeah, it’s so cool.”
With IOC President Thomas Bach and German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer in attendance, Loch showed why there’s no one currently in his class. Not even close.
Loch began the second day of competition leading Demchenko by 0.294 seconds, a sizeable advantage in a sport where the difference between podium and pedestrian can be the blink of an eye.
On his third trip down, Loch completed the 17-curve course in 51.613 seconds, bettering the track record he set on his second run a day earlier. It was going to take a major mistake for anyone to reel in Loch, but he was precise throughout his descent, staying away from the walls and trouble.
Demchenko, who won silver at the 2006 Turin Games and had a raucous crowd backing him, needed to find speed anywhere he could on his home track. But when he posted a time of 51.707 seconds, Loch’s lead had swelled to 0.388 seconds.
At that point, Loch only needed to stay upright during his last run to secure Germany’s 10th gold in 14 events since luge debuted at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.
Loch’s final trip was essentially a victory lap.
He paddled down the start ramp, the spiked fingertips of his gloves digging into the slick surface. Loch stole one last look at the pristine ice before him before lying back and weaving his way to an easy victory. After crossing the finish line, he pumped both fists and let out a scream.
The 42-year-old Demchenko was nearly as excited with his silver, and as he celebrated Russian fans chanted “Four more years!” in hopes he’ll keep sliding.
“Why would I be disappointed,” said Demchenko, who indicated he will retire and possibly coach. “There is no reason to be disappointed with any medal.”
Zoeggeler, 40 and likely to hang up his racing helmet, was thrilled to add a third bronze to the Olympic collection he started 20 years ago in Lillehammer.
“I’m happy for the sixth medal,” he said. “It’s a very hard job for these two days.”
After winning five of nine World Cup events this season, Loch, whose father competed in luge for East Germany in the 1984 Olympics and passed on sliding secrets to his son, was one of the biggest favorites in the games. This was his race to lose, but not only did Loch win, he outraced the field of 39 lugers so convincingly that he unintentionally embarrassed them.
He beat fourth-place finisher, Germany’s Andi Langehnam, by 1.829 seconds.
There’s not another slider in his age bracket as talented or as driven as Loch. And with Demchenko and Zoeggeler nearing the finish lines of their stellar careers, Loch lacks a luging contemporary to challenge him and keep him on top of his game.
That job will fall to Georg Hackl, the gold-medal winner in 1992, 1994 and 1998.
Four years ago, Loch was the rising star, the one to watch.
Now, he’s just the one.
Since winning in Vancouver by seventh-tenths of a second, Loch has gotten bigger and better. He’s put in the time, too. Hackl said when he arrives for practice or to work on equipment, Loch is usually waiting for him, eager to sand the steel runners for his sled, lift weights or perfect his craft.
Like a high-performance car, the 6-foot-3 Loch seems engineered to carve up corners and accelerate. His long arms create leverage in the starting chute, allowing him to propel himself down the ramp with maximum efficiency. He’s added weight this season, but not enough to widen his frame, keeping him aerodynamically sound as he pulls G-forces and hugs the slippery turns.
“It’s perfect,” Hackl said of Loch’s build. “He’s a perfect luger.”
Following the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumarishtavili four years ago, Sochi organizers built the world’s longest track with safety in mind. There were no major crashes and only a handful of close calls.
The Sanki track wasn’t as fast as the superspeedway in Whistler – Loch and Demchenko topped 87 mph – but it was designed to challenge the world’s best drivers to be exact.
Loch mastered it.