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Luge ace Loch must tame Beijing's 'flying snow dragon'
Luge ace Loch must tame Beijing's 'flying snow dragon'

Luge ace Loch must tame Beijing's 'flying snow dragon'

The sliding events at the Beijing Winter Olympics get off to a high-speed start on Saturday when Germany's Felix Loch tries to write history in the men's luge.

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The track at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, nestled in the mountains north of Beijing, has earned the nickname "flying snow dragon" with competitors set to clock speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour (93 miles per hour).

Thundering down the 1.9 kilometre (1.2 miles) ice track subjects their bodies to average G-forces of 3G, rising to 5G on bends, similar to what a Formula One racing driver experiences.

Luge, where competitors travel feet-first, is marginally more aerodynamic and therefore faster than skeleton, its head-first sister sliding event which gets underway on February 10.

The high speeds of the luge events can exact the highest price.

Tragedy struck the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia died after losing control during a luge practice run.

- 'Fear motivates' -

There was a timely reminder of the danger involved in Yanqing last October when Poland's Mateusz Sochowicz fractured his kneecap after a crash during a test event on the Olympic track.

"Fear motivates and not paralyses, so even if it does appear, I will face it and gradually rebuild my confidence while riding a 'snow dragon'," Sochowicz said ahead of his return to Beijing.

Medals will be decided by split-second decisions.

The men's four luge heats culminate with medals decided on Sunday, with the women's singles, doubles and team relay to follow in the following days.

Overall World Cup winner Johannes Ludwig of Germany and Austria's defending Olympic champion David Gleirscher are among the favourites for gold in the solo event.

Four years ago at the 2018 Pyeongchang games, a costly mistake on the last run prevented Loch, the Olympic champion in 2010 and 2014, completing a hat-trick of golds.

A third Olympic singles gold after Sunday's fourth and final run would put Loch equal with German luge legend Georg Hackl, who holds the Olympic record.

Despite suffering from Covid-19 in December, Loch managed five podium placings during the World Cup season, including a victory last month in Latvia.

Loch flew to Beijing having overcome a neck issue that he said "could be related to the (Covid) virus" and made racing "difficult when you have to go down the track at around 120 kilometres per hour".

- 'Take some risks' -

The veteran said he wants to be in the thick of the medal fight.

"You have to squeeze the last drop of speed out of each run, you have to take some risks," he added.

The Germans bring a strong luge team to China.

Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt are bidding to win the men's doubles and team events for the third straight Olympics after taking golds at Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang four years ago.

"We're good friends and have raced together for 20 years -- we've probably spent more time together in hotel rooms than with our wives," joked Wendl, a soldier in the German army.

They have known each since childhood, which "really helps, having that trust you need on a two-man luge."

Their team-mate Natalie Geisenberger also has four Olympic golds to her name after singles and team wins at both Sochi and Pyeongchang.

The 33-year-old, the most decorated female luge athlete in Olympics history, was crowned European champion last month in her first season back after becoming a mother.

However, Germany's Julia Taubitz, 25, is the name to beat in the women's singles as both reigning 2021 world champion and this season's overall World Cup winner.

"It's my first Olympics, so I am not putting under pressure about favourites, I just want to do my best and see what happens," said Taubitz.