YANQING, China (Reuters) – German skeleton rider Christopher Grotheer set a new track record on Thursday to take the lead at the competition halfway mark as his team looks to mirror its compatriots’ dominance in the luge on the same track.
Grotheer completed his first run in one minute exactly and was just 0.33 seconds slower for his second as he plunged headfirst down the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, putting him in pole position for the finale on Friday.
Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt took gold on Wednesday night in the luge doubles, where athletes hurtle down at speeds similarly north of 120 km an hour but feet first, adding to Germany’s gold in the luge men’s and women’s singles.
“The first run was brilliant, and the second run was also really good,” the ebullient police officer said.
With fellow German Axel Jungk placed second, Grotheer, 29, said his country’s hegemony in the sliding sports was expected.
“In Germany we have four tracks and all tracks are a little bit different, so I think we can perform pretty well in a short time on this track, which is really technical,” he said.
It was also a fine Olympic debut for China’s Yan Wengang, 24 who sits in third. Before that Yan’s highest placing had been eighth in the World Cup competition last season.
Greater familiarity with the track helped – Yan said he’s had over 500 runs on the track, whereas his competitors have had 50 at best.
“I wholeheartedly admire those who can slide better than we do only after dozens times of practice here,” he said, while also noting some competitors have nearly 20 years experience to his seven.
One such veteran was Latvia’s Martins Dukurs, 37, who blamed a series of errors for his sixth-place finish after two runs.
Dukurs is among the most dominant of all winter sports athletes, with 11 World Cup titles to his credit, but is still chasing an elusive Olympic Gold.
“I did some massive mistakes here and there. Also (others) on the TV you didn’t see. But those small mistakes cost time especially on this track. You can’t get the rhythm, you can’t get the speed which you need.”
Also placing lower than expected was South Korea’s Yun Sungbin, who took gold in this event in his home country four years ago, becoming the first athlete outside of North America or Europe to win a sliding medal.
He currently languishes in twelfth.
“I made so many mistakes, and getting slower and slower. I just hope I can make better tomorrow.”
The 27 year-old said he has become tired of the sport and this will be his final Olympics.
“I expected this. I’m not ready for this Olympics. I was not training much last year, because of the pandemic.”
(Reporting by David Kirton; editing by Richard Pullin)