YANQING, China (Reuters) – Bavarian police officer Natalie Geisenberger set the pace in training for the women’s luge singles at the Winter Olympics on Sunday, buoying up her hopes for a record third crown.
A winner in the singles, as well as the relay, at the last two Olympics, Geisenberger finished ahead of her compatriot Anna Berreiter and Austria’s Madeleine Egle on the final run.
That was despite a crash on the track on one of her six training runs on Saturday, her 34th birthday, at the same spot that had foiled her in training last November.
She will be the first to race when the competition begins in earnest on Monday.
Geisenberger almost did not come back to Beijing after being unhappy with conditions in November, when she spent several days in quarantine due to being a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case.
She also said she had concerns about the human rights situation in China. A United States diplomatic boycott of the Games has been joined by several countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada and Japan.
But Geisenberger said on social media last month she had decided to go to the Games after all.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with the decision to award the Olympic Games to Beijing. The IOC decides and we athletes are presented with a fait accompli,” she said on Instagram.
“We only have the choice: do I fly there and give everything or do I just let my sporting dream burst so close to the end?”
China has consistently denied allegations of human rights abuses and said it opposes the “politicisation” of sports.
Geisenberger missed the 2019/2020 racing season to have a baby, giving birth to her first child Leo in May 2020.
She came back to win the 2020-21 World Cup, before coming third overall most recently, behind compatriot Julia Taubitz and Egle.
A third singles gold would equal the record of German luger Georg Hackl who won three successive Olympic men’s titles in the 1990s.
“Maybe I’m not in the best performance of my life, because it’s a different situation with a child,” Geisenberger told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “But I would never change my child. My little son is just my number one now. It’s not the sport, it’s just my son and my family.”
(Reporting by David Kirton; editing by Clare Fallon)