Felix Loch, Tobias Wendl, Natalie Geisenberger and Tobias Arlt of Germany… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
SOCHI, RUSSIA — Legendary German coach Norbert Loch struggled to control his emotions Thursday as he watched his team celebrate its gold medal in the first Olympic luge relay.
He had coached his son, Felix, to two Olympic titles in the last four years. And he had helped Germany win the men's, women's and doubles disciplines at these Games.
But watching his athletes celebrating a joint victory -- and winning his team's fourth gold medal here -- moved him more than anything else in his storied career, he said.
"I have known these kids since they were small children," he said. "They almost grew up with me because they probably spent more time with me than they did with their parents. That's why this gold medal today is such a special feeling."
The German sliders easily won the relay at the Sanki Sliding Center. The Russians finished second, followed by the Latvian team in third. The victory marked the first time since 1998 that Germany had swept all luge events.
The Americans ended up sixth, despite a strong leadoff run by Erin Hamlin, who won the women's bronze medal this week.
With International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach watching, the competition was fast-paced and crowd-pleasing. "Getting this event in the Games is great for luge in general," Hamlin said. "The fans are really into it. I really like the team atmosphere. It's fun to celebrate together."
The 12 participating countries sent three sleds -- one female, one male and a doubles team -- down the icy track, one after the other, as the clock ticked. At the end of each leg, the competitors hit a pad to release the start gate and allow their team's next sled to begin.
Just as in track's 400-meter relay, luge handoffs are fraught with disqualification opportunities. All the teams finished without any major disasters, though the powerhouse Austrian team had trouble with one run and quickly dropped out of medal contention.
Though new to the Olympics, the relay has been popular with fans on the World Cup circuit because of its unpredictable nature. The crowds at Thursday's competition were particularly boisterous, creating an atmosphere far livelier than at any other race this week.
"It's a great discipline as it captures the imagination of the public," said Felix Loch, who won the men's and relay gold this week. "It really fires up the spectators."
Team relay competition
*--* G Germany 2:45.649 S Russia 2:46.679 B Latvia 2:47.295 *--*