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Sunday, February 10, 2002
Hackl ends up with record, but is in second

Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah -- Georg Hackl came to the Winter Olympics determined to make history. After one day on the luge track, he found out it won't be easy.

Georg Hackl
Georg Hackl of Germany set the track record in his second run, but still finds himself in second place.

Hackl, seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal, trailed Armin Zoeggeler of Italy by 0.041 seconds after the first two heats of what became a riveting duel Sunday.

It was Zoeggeler's night right from the start. With about 13,000 fans lining the 17-turn track and screaming encouragement at all the sliders, he broke his own track record twice and finished with an aggregate time of 1 minute, 29.067 seconds.

Trailing by 0.068 seconds after the first heat, Hackl quickly proved why he is the greatest luger in history and still a threat at age 35.

With his black-and-white booties cutting through the icy air like a pair of lobster claws, the German stunned everybody with a run of 44.494 seconds, the fastest run of the day.

"I was very satisfied with the second run, but I'm angry with my starting times," Hackl said. "In training I was much better. In my mind, Zoeggeler was the best in the world the past two years, but this track suits my style perfectly."

Another gold medal would place Hackl on yet another pedestal. No Winter Olympian has ever won the same event four consecutive times.

Four athletes -- Carl Lewis in the long jump, Al Oerter in the discus, and Paul Elvstrom in sailing -- have accomplished the feat in the Summer Games. With any medal, Hackl will become the first winter athlete to make the podium in five consecutive Olympics.

Markus Prock of Austria, who has finished second twice to Hackl in the Olympics, was in third at 1:29.338.

The crowd might have provided the biggest boost to Adam Heidt of Northport, N.Y., who was fourth and in medal contention heading into the final two runs Monday. No American slider has won a medal in singles competition since luge became an Olympic sport in 1964.

"I'm pretty psyched," said Heidt, who trailed Prock by just 0.072 seconds. "It's great. I'm doing everything that I can."

Tony Benshoof of White Bear Lake, Minn., was in seventh after a first run of 44.776 seconds but lost control of his sled and slammed a wall at the top of the track on the second to fall out of contention.

"I don't know what happened," said Benshoof, competing in his first Olympics. "It's a tough corner and it just got me. It's the most difficult part of the track and it was the most difficult for me, too. I lost a lot of time. Hopefully, I can make it up tomorrow."

Four years ago at Nagano, Zoeggeler won silver behind Hackl, but the German ace clearly was on a different level. He won all four heats and finished a daunting half-second ahead of Zoeggeler, who also won bronze behind Hackl at Lillehammer.

In the days leading up to the competition, the 28-year-old defending world champion appeared to be coasting, maybe playing mind games with his rivals as only lugers can. He posted the fastest time on only one of the six training runs.

Any doubts Zoeggeler wasn't ready vanished only moments after Hackl breezed through the first heat as he began his quest for Olympic history.

Sliding sixth on a shiny new purple sled designed with help from Porsche engineers, Hackl overcame his usual weak start -- he was 26th -- and rocketed down the track at 86.1 mph.

When Hackl's time of 44.614 seconds flashed on the board, he was first.

"To be honest, this was not a perfect run," Hackl said as he frowned and walked away.

Zoeggeler proved that only moments later when he broke his own track record, finishing in 44.546 seconds. That eclipsed the mark of 44.590 seconds at the Olympic test race a year ago.

The rugged-looking Zoeggeler, with his usual 5 o'clock shadow, gave credit for his performance to the fans, who made the venue seem more like the European tracks, where more than 20,000 regularly attend big races.

"It was gigantic to drive in front of such a crowd," Zoeggeler said. "You could hear the spectators even in the corners."