WHISTLER (Reuters) - Tatjana Huefner woke up from a nap before blazing to gold in the Olympic women’s luge event on Tuesday as Germany maintained its iron grip on the sport.
Just as Felix Loch had done in the men’s race, Huefner found a dream line down a shortened Whistler track to extend her overnight lead and win by a comfortable 0.49 seconds.
Huefner, a bronze medalist in Turin but a major flop at last year’s world championships, wore a steely gaze at the start of her decisive fourth run and 41 seconds later was punching the air with delight before leaping into the arms of her coach.
“I was a bit nervous before my last run but I managed to sleep a little bit and after that I was fine,” Huefner, a keen climber who last year ascended the Matterhorn, told reporters.
“The start was difficult, especially for us Germans because the start times are our main strength but in the end it was okay. I came here to win and I made it....it’s a dream.”
German women have been virtually unbeatable in luge over the past decade but Austria’s Nina Reithmayer made sure it was not a third Olympic “eins-zwei-drei” in succession by snatching the silver medal -- her best career result.
Natalie Geisenberger’s final run was delayed when a track side photographer accidentally set off a water hose as she prepared to push-off but after briefly walking away from her sled she regained her composure to win the bronze.
However, the day was all about her 26-year-old team mate.
“This is exactly what I’ve worked for so many years. Overall it was very exciting,” Huefner, a soldier from the German luge heartland of Blankenburg, said.
Huefner’s small fan club was drowned out by pink-wigged Americans cheering on world champion Erin Hamlin and the Canadians there to watch Alex Gough and Regan Lauscher but on the ice she had no equal as she recovered from a poor first run on Monday to add Olympic gold to her World Cup title.
Hamlin, who briefly halted the German bandwagon by winning the world championships in Lake Placid last year, finished a distant 16th, one place behind Lauscher while Gough was 18th.
They were all affected by the organizers’ decision to lower the start to the junior push-off in the wake of last week’s accident in men’s training which killed Georgia’s Nodar Kumaritashvili and were still grumbling on Sunday.
“We’ve got the world championships here in a few years so hopefully we can actually have a race,” Gough told reporters.
Whatever track they slid down Huefner would have won gold and Sylke Otto, champion in the last two Games and who belongs to the same sports club as Huefner, was impressed with what she saw.
“It makes me wish I wasn’t retired,” she told Reuters. “Tatti is a very strong slider and still relatively young so she could achieve what I did and win this again.”
Thankfully there were no major incidents although the sight of Slovakia’s Jana Sisajova losing control and briefly going airborne on the approach to the 13th corner drew gasps of horror from fans and athletes watching on the big screens.
Luge concludes on Wednesday with the doubles.
Editing by Miles Evans