Bobsleigh-Friedrich supreme in unprecedented German podium sweep

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YANQING, China, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Any pretenders' hopes that the undisputed king of bobsleigh might relinquish his crown were brought crashing down to earth on Tuesday as Germany's Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis rocketed to another Olympic gold medal.

Friedrich, the police officer from Dresden, led three German teams in a sweep of the podium, a feat unprecedented in any Olympic bobsleigh event going back 98 years.

Friedrich was unsatisfied with his performance in the first heat - he and Margis led but a few bumps along the "Flying Snow Dragon" track meant compatriots Johannes Lochner and Florian Bauer were still capable of an upset.

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In the race's finale, however, the master left no doubts about his superiority, hitting speeds close to 136 kilometres an hour as they rocketed through the -12 degrees Celsius air of the Yanqing hills.

Their time over four runs was 3:56.89, 0.49 seconds faster than Lochner and Bauer, and 1.69 seconds quicker than compatriots Christoph Hafer and Matthias Sommer who took bronze.

"Today in the third run we say we have to fight, we have to attack Hansi (Lochner), that we can make the distance," Friedrich said after the race.

"It was so great to come in the finish in the third run and see the 58.99. We want to be the only ones who come under 59 (seconds) and we did it."

It was an awesome show of German dominance even at an Olympics where the country has won seven out of eight available sliding golds and half the 24 sliding medals.

"It's a team victory," said Sommer. "We work together, we tested the sleds and the runners. It's a victory for Germany."

The country is bobsleigh's stronghold. It is home to a quarter of the world's bobsleigh tracks, with its team enjoying a warchest that is the envy of other winter sport federations, not to mention a crop of tremendous talent. L8N2UP5BR

"The whole season was the same thing, so I think nobody is surprised," said Switzerland's Michael Vogt, who finished in fourth.

"They have the best material, it is a pretty long track, so it's even harder for the other teams to reach them."

Friedrich, the man regarded as bobsleigh's greatest of all time added to his gold medals in the two-man and four-man events in Pyeongchang four years ago, with a chance at another four-man medal on Sunday.

A wave of shock rippled through the crowd as Britain's Brad Hall and Nick Gleeson flipped at high speed at the perilous curve 13, the bobsleigh skidding through the finish line with the two men's helmets uncomfortably close to the ice.

But they stood up and returned for a strong final run to finish in 11th place.

It was also Monaco's best Olympic finish in both summer and winter varieties, with Rudy Rinaldi and Boris Vain placing sixth.

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Reporting by David Kirton, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge

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