2014 Olympic Luge: Preview and Predictions for Men's Medal Round
The luge is not for the faint of heart. Traveling at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour down a perilous course, the slider is on his back and barreling down the ice track feet first.
Though the luge is not an overly popular or publicized sport in the United States, it does garner a strong audience during the Winter Games because of the high-speed action and dangerous intensity.
The first two heats on Saturday delivered the excitement factor. On Sunday, the final two heats will be held, and the cumulative time of the four total heats will determine who achieves Olympic glory. Here is a look at what to expect.
Schedule, TV and Live Stream Info
How Did We Get Here?
With two heats down, Felix Loch must be having flashbacks of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The German athlete took home the gold medal in this event in Vancouver, and in doing so, he etched a place in history as the youngest Olympian to win the luge.
In the first heat, Russia's Albert Demchenko kicked things off sharply with a time of 52.170 seconds, narrowly trailed by Loch with 52.185. Not to be outdone, Loch commanded the lead with a time of 51.964 in the second heat and secured a slight advantage heading into Sunday.
The competition is fierce, and unless the unexpected happens, the race for gold seems to be between Loch and Demchenko.
Can Armin Zoeggeler make history?
Representing Italy, the veteran Olympian Armin Zoeggeler is attempting to become the first athlete to capture an award in the same event six separate times.
The veteran Olympian has medaled in a remarkable five prior Winter Olympics, the first being Lillehammer in 1994 with a bronze medal. He took home a silver at Nagano in 1998, a gold at Salt Lake in 2002, a gold at Turin in 2006 and a bronze at Vancouver in 2010.
At 40 years old, while he may be decades older than some of his competitors, he showed on Saturday that age is merely a number with two runs strong enough to set him in third place heading into Sunday's finals.
How will Team USA fare?
The luge has not been historically the strongest Olympic event for the United States. Chris Mazdzer, who finished 13th in 2010, is currently in 11th place. While medaling may be a long shot for him and his teammates Tucker West (23rd) and Aidan Kelly (26th), his opening two heats were competitive.
Athletes to Watch
With his dominant victory in Vancouver still fresh in his mind, Loch is heading into Sunday's final two heats with confidence. In addition to his triumph at the 2010 Winter Games, he has claimed back-to-back World Cup championships, and that momentum looks to be keeping up Sochi.
After a disappointing performance at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Demchenko is back with something to prove and made his presence strongly felt in the opening two heats on Saturday. He took home the silver medal in the men's singles at Turin in 2006 and is no stranger to the Olympic podium.
After a strong second heat on Saturday, Loch's teammate climbed the ladder and is sitting in fourth. He placed fifth in the 2010 Games and has been the runner-up behind Loch in the past two World Cups.
Who Are the Sleepers?
Though he will need to have two lightning-fast rounds in the final two heats to have a chance at a spot on the podium, his initial two rounds were encouraging. He remains Team USA's best hope for a medal in this event. The Massachusetts native does need a step forward to prove he can compete with the top tier here.
Representing Austria, Egger is trying to earn a spot on an Olympic podium for the first time. After the first two heats, he is knocking on the door in fifth place and could be poised for a breakthrough performance in the next two rounds.
Complete Medal Predictions
After the first two heats, it does appear that the top form is holding up. Felix Loch, Albert Demchenko and Armin Zoeggeler have established themselves as the top contenders in this sport. Here are my medal predictions.
Gold: Felix Loch
Silver: Armin Zoeggeler
Bronze: Albert Demchenko