Not content with his country merely dominating luge, Germany’s Cristopher Grotheer took gold in the men’s skeleton in a peerless performance that further cemented the status of this year’s German crop as one for the history books. The 29-year-old police officer smashed through four runs along the 1,615-metre track of the National Sliding Center in Yanqing.
In skeleton, riders plummet head first down an ice track at speeds up to 130 km an hour, using slight tweaks of muscle to navigate bends with G-forces sometimes more extreme than in a rocket launch. Germany has long been the hegemon of luge, vacuuming up all four golds on offer at the Games. But Grotheer is the country’s first athlete to receive the highest honours in the skeleton, which returned to the Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002.
“Unbelievable. I am so proud. I can’t understand what happened today,” he said, speaking to reporters after the race.
The champion also faced a battle of nerves, with almost a 36-hour wait between the first and second sessions of the competition. “I went late to bed and I slept to 09:00,” he said. “It was OK. But it was a really, really long day and a big time to think about tonight.”
It was also a remarkable race for China, with Yan Wengang claiming the bronze – his country’s first ever medal in the sliding sports. Considering the country’s sliding programme began from scratch seven years ago when China was chosen to host the Winter Olympics, it is fast progress.
Yan was not China’s highest-flying skeleton rider prior to the games. That is Geng Wenqiang, who won China’s first medal on the World Cup medal circuit with a bronze in January, but he was left off the team.
Yan will have silenced any doubts about his abilities, though – including his own. “I didn’t even think I was able to win a bronze medal. I didn’t think I was this strong.” “This medal should make China confident about our future in skeleton. We do have the ability to be competitive.”
His compatriot Yin Zheng also managed an impressive fifth place, behind Russian Sochi gold medallist Alexander Tretiakov. The race also marks the end of an era, with 11-time World Cup winner Martins Dukurs of Latvia unlikely to return for another crack at the Olympic gold that has eluded him since his first try in Turin 2006. His seventh place finish belied his sheer dominance of the sport over the years.
“I wouldn’t say I am the luckiest man in the Olympics,” he said. “It’s pretty long, sliding 20 years, and it’s too much. It costs me. I have a family and they are paying a lot.”
In the women’s event, Australia’s Jaclyn Narracott was in the top spot after the first two runs on Friday morning, followed by Grotheer’s compatriots Hannah Neise and Tina Hermann in second and third. The finale is on Saturday.