German bobsleighers set to reclaim gold

While all the talk has been of a tough, dangerous track, German bobsleigh pairs reigning champions Andre Lange and his brakeman Kevin Kuske have been quietly getting into the groove.

German bobsleighers set to reclaim gold
Photo: DPA

Germany swept the board at the Turin Games four years ago after two golds at Salt Lake City, and although less dominant this season, they remain hot favourites to underline their status on Sunday as the world’s top sliding sports country.

Lange, who also has two four-man titles to his credt, says he is mentally in the zone as he looks to pocket more gold. Lange enjoyed a 0.27sec advantage after the sixth and final training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre with compatriot driver Thomas Florschuetz in hot pursuit.

Notably, that final training session saw everyone make it down safely after a dozen spectacular crashes on Wednesday, one of which led to Swiss pilot Daniel Schmid pulling out.

“My health is more important to me than hurtling down the track like I’m tired of life,” said Schmid. Swiss brakeman Juerg Egger will also miss the two-man bob after he suffered a spinal injury in Friday’s official training, team doctor Christian Schlegel revealed.

“He was brought to Vancouver by helicopter for further observation. He has a cervical spine injury. He can walk, he has no motor function disruption,” said Schlegel.

Another Swiss medal hope, Beat Hefti, was also forced to withdraw after suffering concussion in a crash during Wednesday’s accident-plagued training session.

“The prognosis is very difficult. We’ll have to re-evaluate him each day. Beat Hefti suffered from bruises across his body and a concussion in the crash,” Schlegel said.

Hefti won bronze medals with Martin Annen in the two- and four-man events in the Turin Olympics four years ago and also won a two-man bronze in 2002.

The Whistler track has been widely condemned as too dangerous following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who was killed in a high-speed training crash last week.

Various modifications were made to improve safety, but that hasn’t stopped the crashes as the International Luge Federation (ILF) prepares to hold a full inquiry into the venue after the Games.

Even so, Lange says athletes must accept that crashes come with the territory. “It’s a really challenging, difficult and unbelievably fast track. You have to have a lot of experience to clock a fast time,” Lange said. “Crashes can happen. Corners 11 to 13 aren’t called 50-50 for nothing.”

Given his record and domination of training, German bookmakers have all but stopped taking bets on him at gold medal odds somewhat shorter than that.

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Germany’s Buchenwald camp calls out ‘disrespectful’ sleddding at site

The German memorial at former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald Thursday demanded an end to visitors playing winter sports at the site, after some were even spotted sledging at its mass graves.

Germany's Buchenwald camp calls out 'disrespectful' sleddding at site
The former Buchenwald concentration camp pictured in July 2020. Photo: DPA

Criticising “disrespectful” behaviour, the foundation asked guests to refrain from leisure pastimes at Buchenwald and the former subcamp Mittelbau-Dora in eastern Germany.

“Sporting activities are a violation of visitor rules and disturb the peace of the dead,” it said in a statement, warning that its security staff would be stepping up patrols and trespassers would be reported to the police.

The director of the foundation, Jens-Christian Wagner, told news website Der Spiegel that “masses” of daytrippers had gathered at the site over the weekend and most seemed to have come for fun in the snow.

“Some of the sledge tracks ended at the mass graves,” he said.

Wagner said he could understand that many families with children wanted to spend time outside, particularly during a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus, but that the memorial expected appropriate behaviour from its visitors.

“As time passes, historical sensitivity is fading,” he said.

More than 76,000 men, women and children died at Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora during World War II. They were either killed by the Nazis or perished through illness, cold or starvation.

Thousands of Jews were among the dead, but also Roma, gypsies and political opponents of the Nazis, gays and Soviet prisoners of war.

Last January the then head of the Buchenwald foundation, Volkhard Knigge, warned that unwanted visits from neo-Nazis were becoming an increasing problem ahead of the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation.

“We increasingly find messages in the guest book claiming that Nazism and the concentration camps were sensible and good for the Germans,” he told German media.