Yawn - Germans win again

Huefner continues run of domination

By Tim Reynolds
Associated Press / February 17, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Tatjana Huefner said she was nervous.

So nervous, Huefner was, that before her final run of the women’s luge event she . . . found a quiet spot near the starting line and took a half-hour nap.

And when asked when she arrived at these Olympics if she were expecting a gold medal, Huefner replied, “Uh, yes.’’

Uh, yes, she delivered, adding yet another layer yesterday to her country’s magnificent run of dominance in the fastest sliding sport, giving Germany its ninth women’s luge gold in 13 Olympic competitions.

“I wanted to win here,’’ Huefner said, “and I’m very happy that the dream came true.’’

Her four-run time of 2 minutes 46.524 seconds was 0.490 seconds better than Austrian silver medalist Nina Reithmayer. Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger took the bronze.

The bronze medalist at Turin in 2006, Huefner slapped the ice when this one was over, then got almost tackled by Geisenberger, who rushed over to deliver a massive hug before the new Olympic champion wrapped herself in the German flag.

Germany 26, Everybody Else 13. That’s the scoreboard now when it comes to all-time medals awarded all-time in women’s Olympic luge competition.

“We are the best sliders in the world at the moment,’’ Geisenberger said.

A year ago, that title was held by Erin Hamlin.

No more, though, as these Olympics - first marred by the tragic death of a Georgian men’s slider in a training crash, then further marked by frustration by athletes upset that race officials ordered all competitors to start from lower than planned on the track - were one to forget for the American trio.

Hamlin, the 2009 world champion from Remsen, N.Y., was 16th, never able to solve that reconfigured and tricky start. Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine, was 17th, while Megan Sweeney of Suffield, Conn., was 22d.

“These results don’t represent us as a team,’’ Clukey said.

The start used was just a few meters away from what’s Curve 6 in Whistler, a sharp banker to the left that demanded precision off that beginning ramp. It’s so severe that Hamlin boldly predicted before the competition that the start would make or break the race.

Turns out, her race broke.

“It is a bummer, just because we prepared for so long for a whole different race,’’ Hamlin said.

Even with the lower speed, there was one scary moment yesterday when Slovakia’s Jana Sisajova crashed in her final run. Watching on TV monitors, Canada’s Alex Gough and Italy’s Sandra Gasparini immediately gasped and covered their mouths at the sight. Sisajova was able to walk away.

Race officials said the lower start was ordered to help athletes deal with the emotional shock of having a fellow competitor die in a crash.

Still, Clukey wondered why sliders apparently had no voice in that discussion.

“I know it was a tragedy, but I wish they would have consulted the athletes,’’ Clukey said. “I understand because of the seriousness of what happened - but if it was for safety reasons I think they should have asked the athletes.’’

Finishes not withstanding, the US seemed to try to enjoy yet another medal-free Olympics - no American singles luger has ever reached the podium.

When her race was done, Sweeney pumped her fists at the finish as her sled was skidding to a stop, then blew kisses to the crowd, a smile never leaving her red-cheeked face for several minutes.

In turn, they serenaded her with “Happy Birthday’’ - she turns 23 today.

“To have that support,’’ Sweeney said, “it’s incredible.’’

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