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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 22:51 GMT

Legend of the luge

BBC Sport Online looks at the remarkable career of German luge legend Georg Hackl.

Georg Hackl still made history despite just missing out on his fourth consecutive luge gold at the Winter Olympics.

His silver in Salt Lake City was a record-breaking fifth medal at successive Games.

The luge is not the most popular of sports and, as a result, Hackl is not as famous as many great Olympians.

But what he does share with the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave and Mark Spitz is a devotion to his sport.

Golden Greats
Most consecutive golds (three) at the Winter Olympics

Gillis Grafstrom
(Swe) 1920-28
Figure skating Sonja Henie
(Nor) 1928-36
Figure skating Ulrich Wehling
(GDR) 1972-80
Nordic Combined Bonnie Blair
(USA) 1988-94
Speed skating Bjorn Daehlie
(Nor) 1992-98
Nordic Skiing Georg Hackl
(Ger) 1992-98
  • Individual events

    It is said that when the German cannot sleep at night he polishes the runners on his luge.

    Others talk in wonder at how, after being introduced to the sport at the age of 11, he would spend his time after school practicing on his home track at Koenigssee in Bavaria.

    And as a 16-year-old Hackl learnt to build his own sleds.

    Ever since he has always used his own sleds which he constantly alters to suit the specifications of various runs.

    His devotion paid off in 1992 when he won a first gold medal having come second four years earlier.

    Since winning in Albertville, Hackl has defended his title in both Lillehammer and Nagano.

    In Salt Lake City he just missed put on becoming the first winter Olympian to win four consecutive golds in the same individual event.

    Hackl, who earned a silver medal in Calgary in 1988 before starting his gold medal-winning spree, was beaten by Italian Armin Zoeggeler.

    And the German proved a champion in defeat, with his dignified reaction.

    "I'm getting a silver, that's great. Now two silver medals will frame three gold medals," he said.

    "This second place is where I belong. Armin is the right Olympic champion and it is a pity that (bronze medallist) Markus Prock is once more behind me at the Winter Olympics."

    Hackl's first success was a testament to his meticulous nature, concentration and sheer determination.

    He lost in Calgary to East Germany's Jens Muller after experiencing trouble with his starts.

    "For me the silver has the same value as the gold"
    Hackl at Salt Lake City

    On his return to Koenigssee he built a start range and set about correcting the fault that had blighted his chances.

    Hackl reaped the rewards for his foresight and punishing practice regime when he finally captured gold in Albertville.

    Although his perfect preparation was almost undone when he had trouble with the set-up of a new sled during his training runs ahead of competition.

    Undeterred, Hackl opted to use one of his older sleds and proceeded to set the fastest speed in Olympic luging history clocking an average of 99.54km/h over the 1,250 metre run.

    If 1992 was a victory founded on the back of Hackl's perserverance, the defence of his title was courtesy of his consistency.

    At Albertville he had seen off the challenge of Prock in the closest men's singles competition in 24 years.

    In Lillehammer even less time separated the two, and if all four runs had been run as a single race, Hackl would have won the three-and-a-half miles by less than 14 inches.

    Four-time champions
    Three Olympians have won the same event four straight times:
    Carl Lewis: Long jump
    Al Oerter: Discus
    Paul Elvstrom: Sailing

    The German won by 0.013 seconds, and although Prock set a course record with his third run, his fourth was only good enough for seventh and the title was Hackl's who had finished in the top two throughout.

    Back surgery in 1996 seemed to spell the end of his career as his start times slowed.

    But again Hackl went back to the drawing board and back to the Koenigssee run.

    Following in-depth analysis of his style, he learnt to make up time by maintaining greater control of the sled over the course of his runs.

    Whereas 1994 had been an epic duel, Hackl dominated Nagano in 1998 where he won by more than half-a-second from Zoeggeler and became the first man to record the best time in all four runs at the Olympics.

    A fairytale fourth gold in 2002 was not to be, but the drama of the 35-year-old's attempt attracted the attention of IOC president Jacques Rogge, who was among the captivated crowd.

    "It was a great ending," said Rogge.

    "We have a young champion but we also have the master winning a silver medal and his fifth consecutive medal. It was a clash of the giants."

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