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Germans Lead Women’s Luge

February 13, 2002

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) _ Two-time defending world champion Sylke Otto led two German teammates in women’s luge after the first two heats Tuesday.

They were virtually assured of being on the podium when the competition ends.

Otto, third after the first run, broke the track record on her second trip down the 12-turn course, finishing in 43.076 seconds. She had a combined time of 1 minute, 26.432 seconds.

Barbara Niedernhuber, who won silver four years ago at the Nagano Games, was second in 1:26.480. Silke Kraushaar, the defending Olympic champion, faltered on her second run and fell from first to third with a time of 1:26.518.

Becky Wilczak, America’s best shot at a medal, was fourth. But her time of 1:26.990 put her more than a half-second behind, meaning the United States has little chance to win its first Olympic singles medal.

As they did during the men’s competition, thousands of cowbell-ringing fans jammed the venue, waving American flags and transforming the mountainside into a party.

And there was something to celebrate _ Wilczak’s father was there to watch.

That in itself was a victory because 55-year-old Tom Wilczak is fighting for his life. He has battled a rare liver disease for 14 years and his condition has worsened in recent months. It has left the former information technology manager from River Forest, Ill., on full disability, awaiting the call for a liver transplant.

But he’s his daughter’s biggest fan, and he wasn’t about to miss this race, watching from a hospitality tent near the finish line. A private jet was waiting in case the call came from doctors.

``It’s amazing,″ said Becky, who’ll wait until the final heat ends Wednesday before seeing her father. ``I’m happy for him and I’m happy for me.″

Tom Wilczak arrived in Salt Lake City just in time to see his daughter, the U.S. team’s top-ranked female luger, barrel down the course at Utah Olympic Park.

He wasn’t disappointed. Becky, who crashed on her final training run on Monday, put down two solid heats and held a comfortable edge over Angelika Neuner, who has two Olympic medals back home in Innsbruck, Austria.

Teammate Ashley Hayden was seventh in 1:27.410, and Courtney Zablocki was 17th in 1:28.037.

The three Americans are first-time Olympians with little hope of dethroning the powerful Germans. Wilczak was in the top four three times during the World Cup season and finished fifth in the standings.

Kraushaar and Otto have won 29 of the last 35 World Cup races. Kraushaar won four times this season and Otto twice, including the European Championships.

Iginia Boccalandro of Venezuela threw a scare into the audience when she lost control of her sled near the end of the first heat. Boccalandro glanced off one wall, flew back across the track and slammed the other wall as she continued to careen down the ice. Another violent collision sent her legs flying above the ice.

Boccalandro then landed face-down on the track and slid headfirst for over 30 yards, her green racing suit in tatters as she lay motionless. After a couple of minutes, however, she sat up and slowly climbed off the track, apparently OK.

Boccalandro, who was disqualified for not completing the run, was the first female to represent Venezuela in luge. She finished 28th at Nagano.

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