Right about the time Sandro Pertini was handing over the Italian presidency to Francesco Cossiga, and Ronald Reagan was in the midst of his run as President of the United States, young Armin Zoeggeler, then only 14, won his first international luge race.
The year was 1985.
It was the beginning of a long luge career that culminated Sunday with Zoeggeler, now 40 years young, capturing the bronze medal in the men's luge singles at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. In doing so, Zoeggeler made Olympic history by becoming the first athlete to win medals in the same event in six consecutive Olympics.
How good is this ageless wonder?
Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press offers a baseball analogy to put Zoeggeler's dominance in perspective:
If tonight is really the last time Armin Zoeggeler races, it's basically the luge equivalent of losing Mariano Rivera. Simply the best.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) February 9, 2014
Consider his two nicknames: "Il Cannibale," or "The Cannibal," given to him out of respect by fellow competitors for his habit of devouring all foes repeatedly at competitions earlier in his career; and "Iceblood Champion," earned because of his cold, rational, meticulous approach during preparation for races.
How dedicated has he been to his craft?
For the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, the Italian national team asked him to be its flag bearer during the opening ceremony. Zoeggeler politely declined, because he didn't want to be distracted from making his first two runs at the Whistler Sliding Centre the following evening.
In 2014, the national team again asked him to carry his country's flag. This time, he made it work, then he put his game face on.
“Winning another medal will be very difficult,” Zoeggeler said earlier in the week, according to The Sports Review. “The Germans, Canadians and Russians are very fast and very young so it’s going to be really difficult for me.”
In the one event where he has shined longer than any other in the history of the Olympic Games, his overall time of 3:28.797 was good enough to earn the third bronze medal of his storied Olympic career. He could not catch Felix Loch of Germany or Russia's Albert Demchenko over the final two runs. Loch took the gold and Demchenko the silver.
But the bronze is a coveted medal nonetheless, and it brought the total in Zoeggeler's personal stockpile to six. That total alone is impressive enough, but the fact that they have been earned in six separate trips to the Olympics, with years of training and World Cup competition in between each, makes the overall accomplishment staggering in scope.
Zoeggeler also won a bronze medal at his first Olympics in 1994, in Lillehammer, Norway. He followed that up with a silver medal in Nagano, Japan, before capturing back-to-back gold medals in 2002 at Salt Lake City and in 2006 in Turin, Italy. He also won the bronze in 2010 at Vancouver, overcoming a nasty crash on the difficult, deadly course to do so.
|2002||Salt Lake City, Utah||Gold|
When he's not tearing up the nearest luge course, Zoeggeler works as a Carabiniere, or in American terms, a cop.
But what he's really made a habit of policing is his little corner of the Olympics. Over the last six Winter Games, covering a stretch of 20 years, no one in any single event has been consistently better.
This appears to be Zoeggeler's last Olympic Games. According to the Associated Press (via the Charlotte Observer), "his Olympic career ... is all but certain to end in Sochi."
A bronze medal at 40—not the worst way to bow out.
There is a chance he will slide one more time. Italy will compete in the team relay on Feb. 13, and Zoeggeler is expected to participate. As the AP pointed out, the relay will mark the exact 20-year anniversary of Zoeggeler's Olympic debut in Lillehammer.
You have feasted well at the Olympic trough, Il Cannibale.