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Loch nearly a lock for more Olympic gold in luge

January 22, 2014

Felix Loch is, well, nearly a lock to win Olympic gold again.

The German will defend his luge title in Sochi against a strong field he has outraced on the World Cup circuit this season.

Loch, who fine-tuned his sled driving skills inside BMW’s wind tunnels, is attempting to become the third men’s luger to win consecutive Olympic golds.

He won his first at age 20, and could one day join legendary countryman Georg Hackl as the sport’s only three-time Olympic champion. And 40-year-old Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, gold medalist in 2006 and 2010, will try to become the first Olympian to win six medals at six Winter Games.

Here are five other things to know about the 2014 Sochi luge competition:

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TAMER TRACK

In response to safety concerns, the Sanki track was designed with three “uphill” sections that will keep speeds at a reasonable level. Although the descent may not be as exhilarating for racers, the track is challenging and will force athletes to be precise or risk losing time.

“It’s nothing too crazy,” American doubles luger Jayson Terdiman said of the gradual inclines, “but you can feel it slow you down.”

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RELAY RIDE

No, racers won’t be passing a baton at 130 kph (80 mph), but the relay will require teamwork, timing and accuracy.

A female slider will start, and when she reaches the end of the course, she must rise out of her sled and slap a pad hanging over the finish line. That will open the gate up top for the male slider, who after finishing must slap the pad to send the men’s doubles team down the track.

The relay has been a big hit with fans during World Cup events.

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POWERHOUSE PROGRAM

Germany’s domination in luge will undoubtedly continue after winning all three disciplines in the World Cup this season.

Natalie Geisenberger, a bronze medalist in Vancouver, won six straight World Cup events and seven of the first eight this season in capturing her second straight championship. She’s the one to beat.

In women’s luge, Germany has won the past four Olympic golds, 10 of the last 12 medals awarded and 29 of a possible 36 since the 1964 Innsbruck Games.

Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt won the World Cup doubles championship this season and are favored to win golds in Sochi.

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YOUNG AMERICANS

The U.S. team has undergone a major makeover with only three athletes — Erin Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer and Christian Niccum — returning from the Vancouver squad.

The Americans have naiveté on their side, but nothing can replace experience, especially inside the Olympic rings.

At only 27, Hamlin is the sage veteran among the woman sliders with Summer Britcher (19) and Kate Hansen (21).

“They keep me young,” Hamlin said of her teammates.

On the men’s singles side, the 25-year-old Mazdzer is joined on the American team by first-time U.S. Olympians Tucker West, 18, and 19-year-old Aidan Kelly.

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BACK AGAIN

Erin Hamlin always dreamed of skidding into the finish area, stepping off her luge and bathing in Olympic glory. A gold medal hanging from her neck was all she ever wanted.

Vancouver was where it was supposed to happen.

She wasn’t close.

Instead, Hamlin’s experience four years ago in Whistler left the U.S. slider empty-handed and dejected after she placed a disappointing 16th.

“There was no way that was going to be the way I was going to go out,” the 2009 world champion said recently.

Hamlin’s back for her third run at an Olympic medal in Sochi, where a young American luge team will attempt to keep up to speed with the dominating Germans.

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