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LUGE EXPERT LAUDS UTAH OLYMPIC FACILITIES

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The president of the International Luge Federation said Sunday that the Summit County luge site and other elements - sports and community - of Salt Lake City's Olympic bid package were "completely excellent."

However, Bert Isatitsch, the founder and only president the federation has had in its 45-year history, declined to say whether his enthusiasm would translate into support for Salt Lake City over competing cities.Asked twice which city he would personally prefer to host the 1998 Winter Olympics, Isatitsch answered twice, "I feel you can start tomorrow."

He explained to reporters at the 39th annual International Luge Federation Congress that Salt Lake City's advantage lies in its existing transportation and accommodations infrastructure.

"You have already hotels, roads - all we need," Isatitsch said.

The federation's congress met in Salt Lake City over the weekend at the invitation of the Utah Sports Foundation. The meeting attracted members from 25 of the federation's 38 nations and Olympic bid representatives from Sweden, Japan and Spain.

Salt Lake City; Ostersund, Sweden; Nagano, Japan; Jaca, Spain; and Sochi, USSR, are all competing for the 1998 Winter Games. The selection will be made by the International Olympic Committee in June 1991. Support from winter sports governing bodies, such as the luge federation, gives a bid city an edge in the competition.

Isatitsch said the site of the Summit County luge track, which is scheduled to be completed in 1993, is "excellent for our sport." He said it is neither too steep nor too flat.

While the facility is being built primarily to enhance Salt Lake City's Olympics bid, it also will serve as a luge training center, Isatitsch noted, praising the concept.

"I am interested that Salt Lake City build it not only for the Olympics, but for the future, for the use of your grandchildren," he said.

In luge, athletes glide feet-first down an ice course on a small sled at breakneck speeds.

Starting with only four European countries, the luge federation has grown into a worldwide organization governing a sport that remains more popular in Europe than in the United States, something local boosters hope to change.

Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee Chairman Tom Welch told the federation on Saturday that 300 young enthusiasts have signed up for luge tryouts this year and he predicted that 1,000 area youths will eventually participate in the sport.

Isatitsch said of the sport, "It is exciting. It takes much courage."