Monday, February 9, 1998
Luger kick-starts controversy
Don't laugh. This is serious.
Canada and the U.S. tried to give the boot, or take it away, from two-time Olympic gold medal-winning luger Georg Hackl of Germany because he has it and they don't, but the international luge federation refused to put its foot down and rejected the North Americans' protest.
As a result, Hackl, who led the competition going into the final two rounds, was allowed to challenge for his third straight gold medal early this morning.
Canada and the U.S. charged Hackl's booties (no kidding, that's what they call their footwear) are illegal because their manufacturer, Adidas, is not making them available to all other federations, breaking FIL rules.
Hackl's use of the new shoes, which the Canadians believe allow the luger to point his toes lower and are made of a material which could reduce drag, did not sit well with Canadian luger Tyler Seitz of Calgary.
"It's crap to come into the Olympics with brand new booties nobody else can get," Seitz said. "It's plain garbage."
If you can get past listening to very strong, virile men referring to their footwear as "booties," you can see the Canadians and the Americans make a good point.
The new booties had been seen at a previous World Cup.
The Americans made inquiries about getting some, but were rebuffed by Adidas, according to U.S. press attache Sandy Caligiore.
"We called Adidas and told them we wanted to get some," Caligiore said. "We didn't want them to give them to us. We were willing to buy them so our guys would have the best and the latest equipment.
"They told us they had no material left (to make them) and no time to make them if they did because they had moved on to other business. We got shut out."
One of the members of the Canadian coaching staff and another coach noticed the prized footwear at the Olympic competition late last night eastern time and the protest was launched after the first round, which Hackl led.
"The last item (in the rule book) specifies any new equipment must be made available to all international federations," Canadian team leader Brian Rahill said. "There's a feeling that maybe they are better than their previous model.
"If they had upheld our protest, he would have been disqualified. We weren't expecting that to happen. We made the protest to make the point that these type of situations affect the relationships of the countries in our federation."
The FIL jury, composed of Bjorn Walden of Sweden, Karl Zenker of Germany and Ron Rossi of the U.S., did not make public the reasons for rejecting what seemed to be a well-founded protest.
"I think it's a pretty safe bet it was 2-1," Caligiore said.
It would be interesting to hear the rationale behind the rejection of the protest, but apparently the FIL does not need to be held publicly accountable for its decisions.
This surely can't be a case of a sports body not wanting to disqualify its biggest star in its biggest competition, right?
What kind of publicity would that be for a sport that barely gets any to start with?
There was talk around the Spiral course that Swiss luger Reto Gilly also was using the Super Bootie (he trains with the Germans) and that perhaps the Japanese had got their hands, er, feet on some.
"The FIL is supposed to make sure every rule is followed," said Seitz, who was 23rd after the first two rounds, seven positions behind Bancroft's Clay Ives. "Clay was missing some stickers on his helmet and they told him he would be disqualified. They worry about something as simple as a little sticker and there's a guy using booties that aren't available to every other country. It's in the rules. They should be available to all countries."
Seitz said he couldn't say exactly what kind of an advantage Hackl might enjoy from the Super Bootie "because I don't have them."
"What I can tell you is the difference between a training bootie and a race bootie is about three-tenths of a second on this track and that's quite a bit."
Three-tenths of a second just happens to be the margin by which Hackl, led second-place Armin Zoeggeler of Italy.
POSTCARD FROM NAGANO
It might be winter here, but you wouldn't know it walking around any of the Olympic venues or riding the buses. The Japanese take the phrase "warm hosts" just a little far.
You can't really go anywhere indoors where the temperature isn't just this side of stifling.
While the buses are immaculate and, for the most part run on time, it's interesting to note they are much warmer inside than any bus in Atlanta on a hot day.