Olympic Preview -- Luge

By United Press International  |  Feb. 4, 2002 at 1:13 AM
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Luge superstar Georg Hackl of Germany looks to make history in his sport at the Winter Games as he seeks an unprecedented fourth successive singles gold medal.

Hackl, however, will compete with a heavy heart after his father died of a heart attack on Dec. 28.

An unimposing physical presence, Hackl has won four individual luge medals, capturing gold in dominating fashion at the 1998 Nagano Games. He had the best time in all four runs and won by more than a half second.

Before reaching the top step of the podium in 1992 and 1994, Hackl took silver in 1988 at Calgary.

In Salt Lake, he will attempt to become the first Winter Games athlete to win four straight gold medals in the same individual event -- a feat accomplished only by Carl Lewis (long jump), Al Oerter (discus) and Paul Elvstrom (sailing) in the Summer Games.

"I think if I won again, no matter which medal, that would be a tremendous success," said Hackl, a meticulous technician.

Hackl, 35, has not made a final decision on whether to retire from the sport after the Games. He has recorded more than 20 victories in World Cup competition and won nine medals at the World Championships.

If he does decide to step aside, Hackl has political aspirations. He is connected to the conservative CSU party in Bavaria, which has been involved in the development of luge in Germany. Hackl may seek candidacy in a local electoral district.

The CSU is the sister party of the famous CDU (Christian Democratic Party), whose most famous member is former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Germany is the leading nation in luge, a popular winter sport in Europe. Only Italy and Austria are close competitors.

German men have captured eight of 10 olympic golds since 1964, when the event was held for the first time. Hackl, a native of Berchtesgaden, where the International Luge Federation is located, is by far the sport's most successful competitor.

Austria's Manfred Schmid won the gold in 1968 and Paul Hildgartner of Italy took the top podium step in 1984.

Hackl's main challenger is three-time world champion Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, who is a gold medal away from completing his Olympic collection.

Zoeggeler captured the bronze as a 20-year-old at the 1994 Lillehammer Games behind Hackl and Markus Prock of Austria. Four years later in Nagano, he claimed the silver. At the Utah Olympic Park -- considered the fastest luge track in the world -- Zoeggeler will try to stop Hackl from making history.

During the 1999-2000 World Cup, Zoeggeler won the first five of seven races on the circuit en route to his second title. He went on to defend it the next season, easily defeating Hackl and Prock last November in Calgary.

In the women's discipline, Silko Kraushaar of Germany will try to match East Germany's Steffi Martin with her second straight gold medal. Martin won in 1984 and 1988.

Kraushaar captured gold in Nagano by two-thousandths of a second over compatriot Barbara Niedernhuber and Angelika Neuner of Austria.

German women have captured six of 10 gold medals since 1964. A Russian, one Austrian and two Italians have collected the others.

Becky Wilczak is the United States' best chance for a medal, although her top singles finish in three career World Championships was eighth at the 2000 event in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Wilczak did crack the top 10 on the senior World Cup circuit with a pair of fourth-place finishes and a career-best second in the fall of 2001.

At the Olympic Park, sliders will exceed 90 miles per hour on a course that features 17 curves and is 4,318 feet long.

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