SOCHI, Russia -- Legendary German coach Norbert Loch struggled to control his emotions Thursday as he watched his team celebrate its gold medal in the first-ever Olympic luge relay.
He had coached his son, Felix, to two straight Olympic titles. And he had helped Germany win the men's, women's and doubles disciplines during these Games.
But watching his athletes celebrating a joint victory -- and winning his team's fourth gold medal here -- moved him more than anything else in his storied career.
"I have known these kids since they were small children," he said. "They almost grew up with me because they probably spent more time with me than they did with their parents. That's why this gold medal today is such a special feeling."
The German sliders easily won the relay, which made its Olympic debut at the Sanki Sliding Center. The Russians finished second, followed by Latvia. The German victory marked the first time the country had swept all luge events since 1998.
The Americans ended up sixth, despite a strong lead-off run by Erin Hamlin, who won the women's bronze medal earlier this week.
The biggest winner, however, was the relay event itself. With International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach watching, the competition was as fast-paced and crowd-pleasing as promised.
"Getting this event in the Games is great for luge in general," Hamlin said. The fans are really into it. I really like the team atmosphere. It's fun to celebrate together."
The 12 participating countries sent three sleds -- one female, one male and a doubles team -- down the icy track, one after the other, as the clock ticked. At the end of each leg, the competitors hit a time-sensitive pad to release the start gate and allow their teammate to begin the next run.
Just as in track relays, luge handoffs are fraught with disqualification opportunities. All the teams here finished the course without any major disasters, though the powerhouse Austrian team had trouble with one run and quickly dropped out of medal contention.
Though new to the Olympics, the relay has been a hugely popular event with fans on the World Cup circuit because of its unpredictable nature. The crowds at the Thursday's competition were particularly boisterous, creating an atmosphere that was far livelier than at any other race this week.
"It's a great discipline as it captures the imagination of the public," said Felix Loch, who won both the men's and relay gold this week. "It really fires up the spectators."
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