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German easily win's men's luge gold

| Monday, Feb. 15, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- For a welcome moment, grief gave way to gold in luge.

Germany's Felix Loch, speeding safely through the final curve where a fellow Olympian tragically died just two days earlier, won a gold medal Sunday and brought brief but needed comfort to a sport rocked by criticism that it put performance above protection of its athletes.

Loch finished his four heats in 3 minutes, 13.085 seconds, well ahead of teammate David Moeller (3:13.764) and Italy's Armin Zoeggeler (3:14.375), the two-time defending Olympic champion.

Officials, under pressure after 21-year-old Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a practice crash Friday, shortened the track by moving the starts down the mountain. The alteration worked to slow the sleds, but the changes may have tilted the balance of competition.

American Tony Benshoof, who finished eighth, understood the reasoning behind moving the start and respected the decision, but that didn't mean he liked it.

"If we had started from the top, the race would have been totally different," he said. "As soon as they moved the start down, they basically gave two medals to the Germans."

Loch, already a two-time world champion at age 20, is the youngest luge Olympic gold medalist in history. Fellow German Dettlef Gunther was 21 when he won gold at the Innsbruck Games in 1976. Hackl, now a coach on the German team, won his first as a 25-year-old at the 1992 Albertville Games.

Of the 13 golds awarded in Olympic luge, nine have gone to Germans.

-- The Associated Press

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