Sochi 2014: Sliders find first run is the fastest on technical Russian track

Sochi 2014: Technical course at Sanki Sliding Center throws up plenty of drama in Russia as Germany and hosts show sliding superiority

By Stuart Clarke
Luge masters: Felix Loch (l) and German team Photo: Felix Loch/Twitter

In the sliding sports it was about domination, as seven of the nine events were won by the athlete or team who put down the fastest time in the first run of their event.

It was also about the domination of each sport by one country. Germany won five medals in the luge, while Russia won both of the men’s bobsleigh competitions.

But with all of the domination came some exceptional performances. The favourites did not disappoint, the home crowd had a lot to cheer about, and the course provided an entertaining spectacle from start to finish.

Alexander Tretiakov won the first of Russia’s three golds at the Sanki Sliding Center with a spectacular performance in the men’s skeleton on the middle Saturday of the Games.

The 28-year-old from Krasnoyarsk led from start to finish having set a track record of 55.95 on his first run, a quarter of a second ahead of his nearest rival Martin Dukurs.

He then went on to set the fastest times in runs two and four to win the gold by 0.81 seconds from Dukurs, who had to settle for his second consecutive Olympic silver.

Tretiakov and Dukurs were by far the leading figures on the World Cup circuit this season, and their domination was shown by the margin between Dukurs in silver and Matthew Antoine – more than two seconds.

Lizzy Yarnold had a similarly large margin of victory in the women’s event, beating American Noelle Pikus-Pace by nearly a full second.

Like Tretiakov, Yarnold led the event from the first run to the last, having also put in the fastest runs in most of the practice attempts as well.

Despite a shaky final run, Yarnold’s advantage from her first three slides gave her enough room for error – but the errors did not come and the Kent native set another fastest time.

Pikus-Pace played the bridesmaid to Yarnold for much of the World Cup circuit this season and found herself in second place again in Sochi, unable to challenge the Brit despite four excellent runs.

Russian Elena Nikitina was the surprise bronze medallist having not featured in the World Cup events all year, but on her home track she held off American Katie Uhlaender by just 0.04 seconds to take the final medal.

In the luge competitions it was a familiar sight of the German flag being raised at the medal ceremony.

They won everything.

An old adage goes that the whole world turns up to compete in the luge, and Germany win anyway.

24-year-old Felix Loch retained his title from Vancouver, beating Albert Demchenko by half a second despite having trailed the Russian after the first run.

Double Olympic champion Armin Zoggeler defied the odds and won his sixth Olympic medal at the age of 40 by taking the bronze.

Natalie Geisenberger continued the German gold streak in the women’s event, winning by over a second from compatriot Tatjana Huefner and American Erin Hamlin.

Hamlin’s bronze was the first medal won by an American of either gender in an Olympic luge competition, and was described by the Associated Press as “a feat that will surely go down as perhaps the greatest moment in USA Luge history.”

Next up was the men’s double luge, and again the Deutschelandlied was heard at the medal ceremony as Tobias Arlt and Tobias Wendl beat the Linger and Sics brothers from Austria and Latvia respectively.

And, unsurprisingly, Germany completed the procession in the new Team Relay, with Loch, Geisenberger and the Tobias’s teaming up to create an unstoppable force, leading the Russians and the Latvians over the line.

The women’s bobsleigh was one of the more exciting sliding events, with the Americans and Canadians battling it out until the end.

The Americans, featuring Elana Meyers and Summer Games gold medalist Lauryn Williams, led through the first two runs from their Canadian rivals Kallie Humphries and Heather Moyse.

But in the last heat Humphries and Moyse took advantage of mistakes made by the American to overcome a 0.11 second deficit to win by 0.10 seconds.

The two men’s events were less gripping, however, with the Russian teams taking both gold medals.

Team Zubkov won the four-man competition by just 0.09 seconds from Latvia. The Americans held off the second Russian bob to take the bronze by 0.03 seconds, while the Germans finished an uncharacteristic sixth place behind Great Britain.

Alexander Zubkov also won gold in the two-man competition, partnering Alexey Voevoda, as they beat Switzerland into first place. It was Switzerland’s only medal at the Sanki Sliding Center and they held off the Americans who won another bronze medal.

The Jamaican bobsleigh team came 30th, and last, in the two-man event and they have promised to be back with more athletes in more sliding sports in PyeongChang in 2018.

Looking ahead, the World Cup seasons came to an end the week before Sochi, meaning that we will have to wait until October to see more sliding action where we will undoubtedly see the gold medallists close to the top of the leaderboards yet again.

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