PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - With luge blood flowing through his veins and razor-sharp Olympic preparations, reigning double-champion Felix Loch is heavily favoured to emulate mentor Georg Hackl’s golden hat-trick at the Pyeongchang Games.
Hackl himself, who claimed the treble from 1992-1998, has tipped his protege Loch to win more glory for luge powerhouse Germany at the Olympic Sliding Centre.
Confidence has never been in short supply for the easygoing Loch, who became the youngest men’s luger to win a world championship at 18, then the youngest to claim Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games two years later.
He wrapped up a sixth overall World Cup title in Latvia two weeks ago, finishing 85 points ahead of Austrian medal hope Wolfgang Kindl in a timely boost before competition gets underway on Saturday.
Yet the tall 28-year-old, praised as the “perfect luger” by Hackl, believes threats abound to his hat-trick ambitions in Pyeongchang.
“No, I’m not confident of it,” Loch told Reuters in an interview at the Olympic Sliding Centre.
“I always say to myself, ‘I have my medals at home’. Now the next one, it would be nice.
“But the new faces are also really strong.
“The two Russians, Semen (Pavlichenko) and Roman (Repilov), and the Austrian guy Wolfgang (Kindl) and the Italian, Dominik (Fischnaller)... I would say that these are the guys who can get a medal and we’ll see on Sunday which one I get, maybe.”
With Loch and reigning women’s champion Natalie Geisenberger defending their titles at Pyeongchang, the German team has its usual dynastic feel.
Hackl, known affectionately as the ‘Speeding White Sausage’ during his competitive days, remains a part of the technical set-up while Loch’s father Norbert, who competed in luge at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, is the team’s head coach.
The Germans have been thrilled with the bone-chilling cold in Pyeongchang, which has seen the luge track record beaten during training in the leadup.
“The track is really, really good. Fast,” said Loch, who also won a team relay gold for Germany at Sochi.
“At the moment the conditions are perfect. The track crew have done a really good job. Minus seven, minus eight (degrees Celsius), that’s the perfect conditions.
“We are under the track record so that’s a good sign.”
Loch joked about seeing his first luge tracks from a baby “stroller” but in a new Olympic era for the sport, he counts as something of an old master, though two years shy of 30.
For the first time since 1984, the Olympic men’s luge medallists will not include either Hackl or Italian two-times Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler.
The Italian great Zoeggeler claimed bronze behind Russian silver medal winner Albert Demchenko at Sochi, the pair becoming the first lugers to claim Olympic medals in their forties.
Asked whether he saw himself competing as a middle-aged Olympian, Loch snorted with laughter.
“No, no, no. Not so long,” said Loch, a father soon to welcome his second child. “I’ll be at the next Olympics (at Beijing) and then we will see.”
Editing by John O'Brien