After tragedy, Loch wins emotional luge final

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After tragedy, Loch wins emotional luge final

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Germany’s Felix Loch speeds down the track in his final run of the men’s singles luge event at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, on Sunday. [REUTERS]

VANCOUVER - The elements continued to play havoc with the Winter Olympics on Sunday as women’s downhill training was cancelled and Germany’s Felix Loch won an emotion-charged final of the disaster-hit luge.

France claimed two gold medals on day three of a Games struggling to bounce back from the horrific death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and the persistent weather woes that have plagued the event. Loch led a German one-two in the luge final with compatriot David Moeller finishing second and Italy’s Armin Zoeggler third.

The 2008 and 2009 world champion ended with a huge winning margin - his time over the four heats was 3 minutes 13.085 seconds, some 0.679 seconds in front.

Kumaritashvili was killed on Friday after he lost control of his sled and was flung off the track, hitting a metal pillar at high speed. The circuit was shortened and modified for the final in the aftermath, with the men racing lower down from the women’s start. Loch, at 20 the youngest winner of the title, said he was overjoyed to win such an emotional event.

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“It was the right decision. I was worried that I wouldn’t do so well, but it’s OK, it’s great,” he said, referring to the track changes.

Not everyone was so keen on the new set-up, with some women complaining that their shortened course was fit only for children.

“It’s not a ladies’ start, it’s a child’s start,” said Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger.

The first gold of the day went to Frenchman Vincent Jay, who edged out Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen and Croatia’s Jakov Fak to take the men’s 10-kilometer biathlon sprint title. Jason Lamy-Chappuis made it a double French celebration when he claimed gold in the Nordic Combined, holding off American Johnny Spillane and Italian Alessandro Pittin in a thrilling dash to the line.

It left the country on top of the gold-medal table, ahead of Germany, the United States and South Korea. Meanwhile, Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won the 3,000-meter women’s speed-skating title ahead of Germany’s Stephanie Beckert and Canada’s Kristina Groves.

While those events went ahead, the women’s alpine skiing opener, the super-combined, did not.

It was originally set for Sunday in the mountains of Whistler but too much snow coupled with rain had already forced it to be rescheduled for Thursday, and the problems got worse when training again proved impossible. So far, only two women have been able to complete a training run over the past four days.

The men’s downhill, scheduled for Saturday, also failed to take place. That race was expected to run yesterday, weather permitting.

Despite mounting problems, Games’ organizers remained upbeat. “The weather is starting to cooperate and we’re confident the men’s downhill will go ahead and it is looking good for the ladies’ competition as well,” said Renee Smith-Valade, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

The International Olympic Committee said it had no concerns yet with the disruptions to the alpine calendar.

“At this stage, we believe the weather forecast is looking good,” said spokesman Mark Adams.

While Whistler has too much snow, Cypress Mountain, just outside Vancouver, has been struggling with warm temperatures that have forced tons of snow to be ferried in.

The women’s moguls finals were able to run there on Saturday with Hannah Kearney of the United States taking the gold. In the men’s Alexandre Bilodeau of Canada placed first on Sunday. AFP
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