2014 Winter Olympics Preview: Luge

The Sports NetworkJanuary 7, 2014 

(SportsNetwork.com) - Youth will be served for the United States Luge team at the 2014 Sochi Games.

There won't be many familiar names on this year's roster, but one that stands out will be 18-year-old Tucker West, who became the youngest male to qualify for an American Olympic luge squad.

A three-time USA Luge start champion, West joins Aidan Kelly and Chris Mazdzer on the men's singles team, while Erin Hamlin, Kate Hansen and Summer Britcher comprise the women's roster. Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman will be one doubles team with Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffal on the other doubles sled.

Only Hamlin, Mazdzer and Niccum were part of the team that represented the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a group that was shut out in its bid for a medal.

The U.S. has won four Olympic medals in luge, all in doubles

Olympic luge competition has been dominated in recent years by Germany and Italy, who boast some of the most successful athletes of all time in the sport.

In Vancouver, German Felix Loch took home the gold medal, denying Italian Armin Zoeggeler a third straight gold medal in men's singles. However, the 39- year-old Zoeggeler, known as the "Iceblood Champion", claimed gold at the World Championships in 2011 and bronze in 2012.

Loch is again the favorite in Sochi after back-to-back singles World Championship titles.

Before Zoeggeler, who first won a medal 20 years ago in Lillehammer, the men's singles competition was won three straight times by German legend Georg Hacki. In fact Germany won five of a potential eight medals at the 2010 Olympics.

Speaking of the 40-year-old Zoeggeler, he will be trying to become the first athlete to win six Olympic medals in an individual event.

As dominant as the Germans have been of late in singles, Austria has dominated the last two Olympic events in doubles competition, winning the last two gold medals.

The Germans have won four consecutive gold medals in women's singles and have captured 10 of a possible 12 medals the last four Olympics. Natalie Geisenberger could add to that total after winning bronze in Vancouver. She is the reigning world champion and has been a consistent performer over the last five years, capturing medals at five out of the last five World Championship competitions in singles.

New this year to the Olympic Luge competition will be a team relay that will take place one day after the doubles competition at Sanki Sliding Center.

The Olympic relay, which has been contested on the World Cup circuit and at recent World championships, will include one woman, one man and one doubles team from each nation sliding back-to-back-to-back runs. The woman will start, just like an individual race, but when she gets to the finish there will be a touch pad hanging above the track.

She must rise up from her moving sled and touch the pad. That will signal a gate back at the start of the track to open up for the male slider to start his run. The male slider takes his run and hits the finish pad to open the gate for the doubles team, which will take its run and hit the pad to stop the clock for a nation's total time.

If the United States has a chance at its first medal since 2002 it will come in this event. To nobody's surprise, though, the Germans won all six World Cup relays last season and the World Championship.

Of course, even more eyes will be on the Luge this year following the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili that marred the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The effects of his tragic death are still being felt, as lugers noted that training runs at the 2014 Olympic track in August produced speeds more than 10 miles per hour slower than Kumaritashvili's final run in Whistler in 2010.

Most have pointed to uphill sections that cause slow downs at the Sanki Sliding Center track.

Competition begins at the Sliding Center on Feb. 8 and runs through Feb. 12.

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