Open medal door crashes shut on maturing Kennedy LILLEHAMMER '94

U.S. HOPES GO SLIP-SLIDING AWAY

February 15, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

HUNDERFOSSEN, Norway -- In the blink of an eye, American Duncan Kennedy's medal run was over, ending with a flash of steel, a torn blue racing suit and a limp.

Kennedy's emotions ran the gamut after his spill in the luge event of the Winter Games yesterday. He was disappointed and angry, at one point spewing a string of expletives.

And then his mind shot back to last Oct. 29, when he was beaten outside a bar in Oberhof, Germany, while trying to protect his African-American teammate Robert Pipkins from some neo-Nazi skinheads.

"I'd be wrong to say I wasn't disappointed, because I was mad as hell," said Kennedy, 26, of Lake Placid, N.Y. "But I've grown a lot this year. I guess everything that could have happened to me has happened.

"But I've had some good years and I've had some good races, so in retrospect I really can't complain. Well, maybe a little. But life goes on."

Kennedy had become a crowd favorite here because of the incident in Germany. The locals rang cowbells every time his picture was flashed on a large viewing screen or as he --ed past different positions on the 16-turn, 1,365-meter course.

Entering yesterday's final two runs, Kennedy was fourth, and in good position to become America's first medal winner ever in luge.

The two leaders, Germany's Georg Hackl, 27, and Austria's Markus Prock, 29, each shattered track records as the field's first two sliders to wipe away Kennedy's chance for a gold or silver medal.

But once Italy's Armin Zoggler, in third place, hit the wall on his first run, Kennedy was in great position to get the bronze.

Kennedy whizzed through the first 11 turns at 80 mph, and was only four one-hundredths of a second off the course record.

But near the bottom of the course, three turns away from the finish, Kennedy lost control of his sled. He bounced off both walls and managed to bring his sled to a halt as silence fell over the crowd in the frigid air.

Only reality seemed colder.

Kennedy limped away, taking with him America's medal chances.

"My attitude was to really attack the course, take some risks because that was the only way I was going to catch the first two," said Kennedy. "It's really hard to say what happened. The pressure from Turn 13 catches up a ways, and the sled gets kind of light and hard to control.

"Maybe I tensed up a little bit when I felt that, especially on this hard ice. But I feel good about myself because I tried to make it happen. I would have felt bad if I had not gone all out, and this had happened."

Instead, Hackl became the first man to win consecutive gold medals in the luge. Prock was second, finishing .013 seconds -- or 13 inches -- behind Hackl's time of 3 minutes, 21.571 seconds, the closest finish in Olympic history. Zoggler, 20, won the bronze.

Kennedy's crash was disheartening for the Americans. He had become the team leader since the incident in Germany from which he suffered a mild concussion, bruised ribs and a battered nose.

He had shown great resolve by returning to Oberhof to finish second in the World Cup on Jan. 16, and then within hours testifying before two neo-Nazi skinheads were sentenced and jailed.

"These kind of things happen," Pipkins, 20, who finished 16th, said of Kennedy's accident. "But I'm sure Duncan will recover. Even after he crashed, he came over and wished me good luck. That's the type of person he is. It's hard not to root for the guy who saved your life."

Kennedy already was talking about the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, if his injury-prone back holds out.

"If not, I'll consider my second favorite sport, surfboarding," Kennedy said with a wink.

"I remembered when I crashed recently in Oberhof, the first person to come over was Duncan Kennedy," said teammate Wendell Suckow. "Since Germany, Duncan seems to have a better perspective on life."

Suckow, 26, from Marquette, Mich., had a spectacular second day of competition.

Suckow had the fifth-fastest time on his first run yesterday to move into sixth, and followed that with another strong performance to end up fifth, the best finish ever by an American.

"I had nothing to lose, and I'm happy with my performance," said Suckow. "Now I've got to work on my starts to make these European guys worry a little."

Hackl worried, but had a lot of momentum going into the race. He dedicated his medal to his coach, Sepp Lenz, who lost the lower part of his left leg at Winterberg, Germany, when he was struck by a sled driven by American Bethany Calcaterra-McMahon in December.

"I was lucky," said Hackl. "This competition was like a crime novel, there was so much suspense."

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