Felix Loch cannot be stopped. The German luger earned his second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the men's singles on Sunday, extending his lead in each of the final two runs to come away with a dominating triumph.
Loch's overall time of three minutes, 27.526 seconds gave him a massive advantage over Russia's Albert Demtschenko, whose 3:28.002 was sterling in its own right to earn a silver medal. Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, the veteran of the circuit, won a bronze with a 3:28.797 time.
Overall, none of the top three changed from the preliminary rounds.
|Rank||Country||Name||Total Time (Diff)|
|2||RUS||Albert Demtschenko||3:28.002 (+0.476)|
|3||ITA||Armin Zoeggeler||3:28.797 (+1.271)|
|4||GER||Andi Langenhan||3:29.355 (+1.829)|
|5||RUS||Semen Pavlichenko||3:29.436 (+1.910)|
|6||ITA||Dominik Fischnaller||3:29.479 (+1.953)|
|7||RUS||Aleksander Peretyagin||3:29.495 (+1.969)|
|8||AUT||Reinhard Egger||3:29.506 (+1.980)|
|9||AUT||Wolfgang Kindl||3:29.663 (+2.137)|
|10||LAT||Martins Rubenis||3:29.697 (+2.171)|
Loch came into Sunday's medal-winning round as the heavy favorite, having opened up a 0.294-second lead over Demtschenko. The German, who became the youngest gold-medal winner in the event's history four years ago, has consistently held his place as the best luger in the world since that Vancouver run—and nothing changed in Sochi.
Prior to Sunday's performance, he spoke about his showings thus far, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt:
After the first run I was briefly annoyed with myself. There were two or three little mistakes and they weren't necessary but then I attacked in the second run. … The second was almost flawless. I'm very happy about the time and the speed, I was going almost (86 mph). That's pretty fast.
I'm very happy to be the first to start because I can set the benchmark and put pressure on the others.
Opening with a comfortable but still attainable lead, Loch set about extending his advantage beyond any comeback possibility. He set yet another track record with his first run (third overall) with a time of 51.613, the second time in as many runs as he had gone under the 52-second marker. As noted by Megan Soisson of NBC Olympics, Loch's stellar time came despite efforts from officials to limit speeds to 85 mph:
From there, it was obvious that everyone else in the field would be racing for second place. Despite runs worthy of gold-medal contention throughout the field, none of the lugers could come close to touching Loch's time in Run 3, giving him breathing room heading into his final attempt.
Needing only a run in the mid-52-second mark, Loch could have taken a conservative line and comfortably come out with gold. Instead, he bested everyone once more, running through the final course in 51.764 seconds to extend his lead further.
Despite the dominance of Loch, there were plenty of great stories elsewhere in the field, particularly with the other two medalists. Demtschenko, 42, became the oldest individual medalist in Olympic history.
The Russian has long been one of the most respected lugers in the world, but his Olympic runs consistently fell just short. A silver in the 2006 Games in Turin was his only medal prior to Sunday. With the home crowd cheering him on, though, the adrenaline apparently kicked in, and he thrived in the sense of the moment.
Zoeggeler, meanwhile, was racing for history. The Italian came into the final runs with a chance to become the first six-time medalist in a single event in Olympic history. His first medal came at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, with every four years coming and going with Zoeggeler as the sport's only constant.
Coming into the day in third place, Zoeggeler stayed there with a solid third run but finished again behind Demtschenko and Loch. That run, barring a crash from either competitor, made it bronze or bust with Russia's Semen Pavlichenko and Germany's Andi Langenhan coming on hard.
At age 24, it seems the only thing standing between Loch and more medals is Loch himself. Odds are that the German will compete in the 2018 Games, and Zoeggeler's and Demtschenko's stellar runs at 40 prove that luge is not a sport dominated by youngsters.
Reynolds was already ready to name Loch as the favorite for Pyeongchang:
2018 Olympic men's luge singles prediction. Gold _ Felix Loch, Germany.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) February 9, 2014
Loch's fiercest competition in Sochi came from lugers in their 40s—and guys likely in their last Olympic Games—so that seems like a good bet. He has established himself as head and shoulders above the competition, to the point one could easily see him becoming this generation's Zoeggeler.
No matter what happens in the future, Sunday's final is about the present. And in 2014, there is no finer luger in the world than Felix Loch.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: