PARK CITY, Utah — Just about everyone seemed to want Georg Hackl to make history Monday except Georg Hackl.
The German luge superstar had a chance to win his fourth consecutive gold medal as he began the final two runs of the men's singles at Utah Olympic Park. No Winter Olympian has accomplished that feat in an individual event, but Hackl barely seemed to notice, or care.
This is a man whose obsession with and devotion to his sport is the stuff of legend, so for him history was just one more distraction. Maybe that's why Hackl thrust his right fist skyward in jubilation as he finished his final run, even though he knew that Italy's Armin Zoeggeler--the next racer up--would almost surely end his run of gold.
Hackl accepted defeat graciously, pleased to have won any medal and almost relieved for the sake of his sport that the right person had finished No. 1, even if that person no longer was he.
"I'm satisfied and happy with the silver medal," he said. "The gold medal was won by the best man.
"We are all sportsmen and accept that the best man wins."
With a healthy 0.232-second lead through three runs, Zoeggeler probably could have taken his fourth run on a trash can lid and still held off Hackl. The 28-year-old Italian policeman was consistently fast beginning with his first run Sunday.
He posted at least the second-fastest time on each of his four runs while compiling a total time of 2:57.941, a healthy 0.329 of a second ahead of Hackl. Austria's Markus Prock finished third in 2:58.283; Adam Heidt of the U.S. was fourth in 2:58.606.
With his victory, Zoeggeler finally laid claim to the title of world's top luger, a status he seemed primed to attain after winning two world championships and two World Cup titles since he won the silver medal in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
"It was a long wait and a long way to this gold medal," said Zoeggeler, who won a bronze medal in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. "It took a lot of power and energy, but now I'm really happy."
Hackl, 35, said a shot at a fourth gold medal did not motivate him to compete in his fifth Olympics.
"My motivation to come here was first and foremost my sport," he said. "Maybe we can talk about history later, but not right now."
The silver medal, which matched the one Hackl won in 1988 in Calgary, did make him the first Olympian to win a medal in five consecutive Winter Games. Through all those Games, he finished ahead of Prock, who won two silvers plus Monday's bronze.
It seemed Zoeggeler too, might wind up forever in Hackl's rear-view mirror. But Hackl, hampered by an old back injury, had four mediocre starts and couldn't make up enough ground.
Afterward, the 37-year-old Prock said he was 99% sure he was retiring, even though he set a track record of 44.271 on his third run. Hackl said he will compete for another year, then assess his future.
He provided the day's most poignant moment when he dedicated his latest medal to his father Georg, who died last month. The son then broke into tears and covered his face with his hands.
Though only 24, Heidt said he will evaluate whether to continue making the sacrifices in time and money that a luge career demands. Monday, he was content to savor achieving the best Olympic finish ever for a U.S. singles luger. Wendel Suckow placed fifth in the '94 Games, and Cammy Myler matched that in 1992 in France.
Heidt was fourth after Sunday's two runs. "I felt right up until the end I had a shot at a medal," he said. "I never sell myself short.
"This may not be a medal, but it's the highest ever for an American, and I'm pretty happy with that."
Barry Temkin is a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune.
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Still the One
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