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Germany looking to go 4-for-4 in luge

February 12, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Men’s gold medalist. Women’s gold medalist. Doubles gold medalists. All Germans.

And now they all get to join forces with hopes of winning another gold.

The luge team relay makes its Olympic debut on Thursday night, where Germany — surprise! — will be the overwhelming favorite for top honors. Felix Loch won the men’s gold, Natalie Geisenberger the women’s gold, and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt combined to take the doubles title on Wednesday night.

Put them all on one team, and how could anyone argue that they’re not the massive favorites?

“How do you beat them?” asked U.S. doubles slider Jayson Terdiman. “You get second.”

Sounds about right.

The team relay has all sorts of neat elements that has quickly made it popular. Sliders go down the course, then sit up at the finish to smack a large pad that triggers their split time and tells the next sled that it’s time to go to work. Combine the three times, lowest score wins.

It’s still luge, so Germany still dominates. But plenty of nations figure to have a shot, including the United States, led by women’s bronze medalist Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y.

“We do get into it more than a lot of teams, I think,” Hamlin said. “We love that aspect of being a team.”

Here’s five things to watch in the team relay:

THE FORMAT: Countries nominate one men’s slider, one women’s slider and one doubles team, they all get one heat, and that’s it. If any crash or fail to hit the pad at the finish, the entire group is disqualified.

MISTAKES HAPPEN: It’s a different start setup than a “regular” race, and it’s not like Loch and Geisenberger will get to take the same lines down the track as they did on their dominating paths to golds, since the start is lowered for the relay. Sure, the Germans are still the ones to catch, but there’s more ways for things to go awry in this format.

US LINEUP: It’s expected that Chris Mazdzer (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) will join Hamlin and the doubles team of Christian Niccum (Woodinville, Wash.) and Terdiman (Lake Placid, N.Y.) on the U.S. roster. For Niccum, it could be his last competitive race. Mazdzer plans to be back at least one more year, and it would be shocking if Hamlin left the sport after grabbing the bronze in the women’s race.

ARMIN AND ALBERT: Armin Zoeggeler is listed as the men’s slider for Italy. And that means the 40-year-old men’s luge legend may be racing for the final time, since he’s all but said that he will not be on the World Cup circuit next season. Same goes for Russia’s Albert Demchenko, also expected to retire after Thursday night.

UPSET CHANCES: There are 12 nations in the field and six probably should have realistic medal expectations. The margins will likely be close, and while it would be a surprise if Germany didn’t win, the next group — Russia, the U.S., Italy, Canada and Austria — all could easily finish second, sixth or anywhere in between.

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