By Mitch Phillips
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Germany has been the dominant nation in sliding sports for two decades and, after a rare blip in Sochi where they failed to medal at all in their beloved bobsleigh, they roared back to the top of the tree with a crushing display in Pyeongchang.
In the nine sliding events they picked up six gold, three silver and two bronze medals, with only skeleton remaining impervious to their power as they remain without a win there since it came into the Games in 2002.
Francesco Friedrich’s success in the final event on Sunday meant that Germany – either East West or unified – have won eight of the 12 four-man bobsleigh gold medals since the 1976 Innsbruck Games.
None of this should come as much of a surprise. The former East Germany successfully focused money and resources on bobsleigh in particular and following unification Germany is the only nation in the world with four sliding centers, compared to Canada’s two and Switzerland’s one.
But, as their struggles in Sochi showed, lots of tracks, great pedigree and good coaches do not automatically translate into medals and having learned from their setbacks they worked tirelessly to ensure their athletes arrived in Korea fully ready.
“Our preparation was meticulous. Four years is a long time and when it all comes together one has to release it,” coach Felix Loch said when talking about his regular screams of joy at the finish line.
“Our performance has been sensational, far more than we expected.”
Multiple world champion and double Pyeongchang winner Friedrich, said: “The failure in Sochi motivated us all the more to win. We worked like mad, every minute, every second, we did everything for this moment and everybody came together and it worked out 100 percent.”
In the luge, Germany won three of the four golds available and only a rare late mistake by Felix Loch, seeking a third successive singles gold and leading after three runs, prevented a clean sweep.
Natalie Geisenberger won the women’s singles and then struck gold again in the team relay, as did Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt with doubles and relay gold.
Once again, however, when it came to 130kph head-first hurtling, Germany again struggled.
Britain, without a track in the country, continued their fine form on the women’s side of skeleton as Lizzie Yarnold became the first Briton to successfully defend a Winter Olympic title, while Yun Sung-bin, who has virtually lived on the Pyeongchang track for the last 12 months, unsurprisingly took the men’s gold for Korea.
Once the bobsleighs hit the ice, Alexander Kopacz and Friedrich got Germany back on top of the podium in the two-man, but they had to squeeze up as they shared gold with Canada’s Justin Kripps and Thorsten Margis in the first Olympic bobsleigh dead heat for 20 years.
Berliners Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz, not even considered the best team from Germany let alone in the whole field, nevertheless won the women’s race – Germany’s first medal in the event since 2006.
“The sports program in Germany is pretty efficient and pretty good,” said Jamanka, a former hammer thrower. “In the last couple of years we’ve really gone the right way.
“Friedrich the Great” finished things off with a dominant display in the four-man, with Nico Walther’s team sharing silver with Korea in another dead heat where 39-year-old four-time gold medalist Kevin Kuske added another medal to his collection.
“We did it in the two-man and the four-man and also the girls’ gold, which wasn’t expected,” said Friedrich.
“I am so proud of the whole German team.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Mark Treveleyan; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)