KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Natalie Geisenberger can be beaten. It just doesn’t happen very often.
The German will look to add Olympic gold to her list of luge accomplishments — which include bronze in Vancouver — when the women’s competition at the Sochi Games gets underway Monday night with the first two runs of a four-heat competition.
Medals will be decided in the final two runs on Tuesday. All four count toward a slider’s total time.
Geisenberger was beaten only once in the World Cup season, by teammate Tatjana Huefner, the defending Olympic champion who almost seems like an afterthought entering these games. And while that might not be wise, it makes some sense given Geisenberger’s dominance during the past two years.
Here’s five things to watch as the women’s luge competition begins at Sanki Sliding Center:
UPSET CHANCES? No one is likely to catch Geisenberger or Huefner, unless they crash or make a big mistake. But if disaster strikes the favorites, Canada’s Alex Gough might see the door to becoming an Olympic champion swing wide open. Gough might be the most consistent, most talented non-German in the women’s luge right now.
AMERICAN HOPES: Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., is a former world champion, and Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif., won the last World Cup race on the circuit this season. Sure, no American has ever won a luge singles medal at the Olympics. And while it might be slightly surprising if Hamlin or Hansen break through against this stacked field, it would hardly be a complete stunner.
THE KEY: The three uphill portions leave very little room for error on the Sanki Sliding Center track. The course is long, but that just means there’s more room for mistakes. If the men’s competition showed anything, it’s that sliders have to be pretty clean at the start of the track, then settle in before the first five or six curves are completed. After that, good luck making up time.
INTIMIDATION FACTOR: Geisenberger will be the second woman on the track in the first run. If she puts up a great time, the other hopefuls in the field might feel beaten before the race even starts.
BEST NAME: In the Winter Games best name contest, a podium place has to go to American luger Summer Britcher, from Glen Rock, Pa.