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Germany back atop podium at World Cup women's luge event

By Terry Bell, The Province
February 20, 2009

Life is back to normal on the women's World Cup luge circuit.

German women swept the podium at the Viessmann Luge World Cup at the Whistler Sliding Centre Friday, Natalie Geisenberger grabbing the gold in a two-run combined time of one minute, 38.012 seconds.

Teammate and new 2008-09 champion Tatjana Hufner was second in 1:38.369. Anke Wischnewski got the bronze in 1:38.612, just ahead of teammate Steffi Sieger (1:38.709).

This kind of domination is nothing new. Until Erin Hamlin of the U.S. won the 2009 world championships on her home track at Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 6, the German women had won 99 straight World Cup, world championship and Olympic races. The last time someone other than a German won a race was Nov. 29, 1997 in Koenigssee, Germany.

Hufner quickly started another streak, winning the World Cup in Calgary a week later. Geisenberger led a sweep Friday on a challenging, lightning-fast track that will host the 2010 Olympics next February.

"I like it," Geisenberger said of the track. "It's very, very fast. I think for us Germans it's OK. Maybe for some other athletes it's a little bit dangerous but I like it very much."

If that sounded a little arrogant, it really wasn't. She was just being truthful. And the truth is that the German team want to face better competition.

"It's good," she said of Hamlin's finish at worlds. "I think at world championships there were six nations on the podium (including men's and doubles).

"Last year there was one nation. We were not angry but a little bit shocked. The German places were two, six, 10 and 17. That's not like a one-two-three-four."

"I think it was a good boost," Hamlin said Friday of her win's effect on the rest of the women in the sport. "A week after that (last weekend in Calgary) Veronika Halder (Austria) was on the podium and it wasn't a German sweep.

"I think it's really good for women's luge. They (non-Germans) see that other women can win and that gives them extra motivation.

"When the same women win every race it gets boring. I had many of the German staff and athletes say it (her win) was very good for the sport."

A crowd of 3,000 watched the event. That's the maximum and Saturday's men's race is also sold out.

The skies were clear and the warm temperatures forced race organizers to put the blinds up to shade the track and prevent melting.

Calgary's Alex Gough led Canada, finishing seventh in 1:39.157. Meaghan Simister of Calgary was 10th in 1:39.405 and Regan Lauscher, also of Calgary, was 13th in 1:39.502.

"This is great for my confidence and shows that I can compete with the top women in the world," said Gough. "The top women are clearly winning these races with their starts, and that is what I have to work on this summer to keep getting better."

Simister said she hopes Canadians can join the Germans on the Olympic podium but she knows it's not going to be easy.

"I sure hope so," she said. "But we don't even have a title sponsor. It'll be kind of hard when we can't compete with them budget wise. They have the best technology and the best sleds. We don't have those yet.

"They're such experienced sliders they can afford to take risks, whereas I can't. I have a safe setup," she said, referring to the way the sled's blades are angled to the ice and sharpness of the steel. "The Germans have the riskiest set-up and they have the experience."

The national team is looking for a title sponsor and appealing to the public for financial help through its website: www.ilovealuger.com

E-mail reporter Terry Bell at goryy@gurcebivapr.pbz
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