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German luge machine at full throttle in Sochi

Winner Germany's Natalie Geisenberger (R) and second-placed compatriot Tatjana Huefner celebrate with their bouquets at the flower ceremony
Winner Germany's Natalie Geisenberger (R) and second-placed compatriot Tatjana Huefner celebrate with their bouquets at the flower ceremony

By Justin Palmer

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - German luge great Georg Hackl believes his country's dominance in the sport comes from a scientific approach to athlete recruitment and sled design.

For their rivals, however, the reason is clear -- the Germans were born to slide.

At these Olympics, as at previous editions and throughout the winter World Cup season, the Germans have left the rest of the world trailing.

Hackl protege Felix Loch successfully defended his men's individual title with panache, while Natalie Geisenberger, also part of Hackl's coaching set-up, won her first women's singles Olympic gold on Tuesday in convincing fashion.

More gold, and possibly a clean sweep, is likely to follow with Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt favorites for the doubles title on Wednesday while Germany will be challenging for the top of the podium in the inaugural team relay on Thursday.

Hackl describes Loch as "the perfect example of the build of the perfect luge athlete."

Geisenberger and Wendl, he said, were blessed with "explosive strength".

"There is a very selective process of recruitment of athletes who have the ideal measurements and body weight," said Hackl, who won three Olympic gold and two silver medals in his luge career.

"In the junior programs they focus on selecting athletes for their body structure," said the man affectionately known as "the flying sausage" in his sliding days.

Hackl believes the sport has progressed since he retired.

"It's clear that it has changed a lot, especially the athletic element at the start. They are much faster.

"Of course we were aware that the start is one of the key success factors, but now new kinds of athletes have developed.

"If I were to compete with my sled from my era I would be half a second slower than today's athletes, so there have been changes to equipment, the geometry of the blades and the aerodynamics.

"On a daily basis we work on improving every little detail of the sport."

METICULOUS PLANNING

Since luge was introduced to the Games in Innsbruck in 1964, German athletes (including the unified East and West German team of that year) have enjoyed a gold rush with 20 (10 men/10 women) out of 28 Olympic singles titles.

It is not just Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology) that is key; the meticulous planning into Loch's second successive gold medal included analyzing his rivals.

"(Albert) Demchenko has a very fast sled, but when we analyzed his performance we knew where his weaknesses were: his age, and his athletic ability," Hackl said of the 42-year-old Russian silver medalist.

The outlook for Germany's rivals is bleak.

"The Germans always like to be on top," said American women's bronze medalist Erin Hamlin. "The Germans are always fast and you can always count on them to bring their A game."

Team mate Kate Hansen said German lugers were great drivers.

"They've been doing this since they came out of the womb," she said.

German domination has not been without controversy, however.

On Tuesday, after Geisenberger's gold, silver-medal winning team mate and 2010 champion Tatjana Huefner took a swipe at her "favored" rival, hinting at divisions in the German camp.

"I have a feeling that Natalie Geisenberger is a favorite with the federation," she told a news conference which started before the gold medal winner had arrived.

"She had a lot of support in Germany, from the coach and the team. I had one trainer for three years but later I had to change coach. My favorite trainer could not follow me here.

"I was very disappointed. It is such defining moments that make a career or ruin it."

In February 2012, Russian national team coach Valery Silakov said German sliders "get around the rules".

"The Germans dominate, in all the (inspection) commissions they are getting around the rules a bit," he told RIA Novosti, prompting a swift denial of the allegations by the German federation.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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