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Yellow booties make Hackl golden

Georg Hackl said his new booties were yellow. Make that golden.

The 31-year-old German left the field in his icy wake with the two fastest runs of the day again to win his third straight Olympic gold medal in luge.The soldier from Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps became just the sixth Winter Olympian to win the same event three consecutive times.

Hackl, who rattled his rivals on the first day of competition by trotting out a new pair of slick booties that allegedly gave him an aerodynamic edge he didn't need, got his 50-pound blue sled cranking quickly Monday.

He was first out of the chute and continued his brilliant performance, finishing in 49.614 seconds. He followed that up with a final run of 49.630.

Hackl, who led Italian star Armin Zoeggeler by .213 entering the final two runs, extended his lead to more than a third of a second after three trips down the twisting 15-turn Spiral course. Only a crash would ruin his day, and that was about as likely as Hackl turning down a frosty beer afterward.

Hackl finished in 3 minutes, 18.436 seconds. Zoeggeler, who won bronze at Lillehammer four years ago, got silver with a combined time of 3:18.939. Jens Mueller of Germany, who won the 1988 gold medal at Calgary by edging Hackl, took bronze with a time of 3:19.093. Wendel Suckow, of Marquette, Mich., finished sixth in his final Olympic race in 3:19.728, more than a half-second behind Muel-ler.

Four years ago, Hackl roared back on the last run to edge Austria's Markus Prock by 13 thousandths of a second, the closest luge race in Olympic history. This time it was not even close.

Consistency is what wins luge races, and none of the 32 other sliders could match Hackl. His runs: 49.619, 49.473, 49.614, and 49.630.

As he did on Sunday, Hackl started slowly. Somewhere between turns 3 and 10, however, he again seemed to turn back the timer, finding those precious milliseconds that win races as he sailed through the final curves at 80 mph.

The steep start at the top of Spiral, which falls 30 stories in a little less than a mile, was supposed to favor Hackl's archrival Prock, and it did. The eight-time World Cup champion recorded the fastest start times on all four runs.

But Prock's Herculean forearms and sleek, muscular build were no match for the chunky 5-foot-8, 180-pound German. The 33-year-old Prock, second to Hackl at Albertville and Lillehammer, finished fourth in 3:19.656 in what probably was his final Olympic race.

How demoralizing was Hackl's performance? Consider this: On Sunday, Suckow was an impressive two-tenths faster on his second run than his first, when he shattered his own track record. And yet he fell another third of a second behind Hackl.

Suckow, bidding to win the first luge medal for the United States, was sixth after the first day and stayed there with two solid runs Monday.

Olympic newcomers Adam Heidt, of Huntington, N.Y., and Larry Dolan, of Plattsburgh, N.Y., made excellent showings, each finishing in the top 15. Heidt was ninth with an aggregate time of 3:20.098, and Dolan finished 13th in 3:21.128.

Forgotten on this day were the protests lodged by the United States and Canada after Hackl's first run of the competition. Both nations claimed his new booties were not made available to other competitors and that the angle of the boots was illegal, allowing them to cut through the air better.

The protests were denied Sunday after a lengthy discussion. Now it was time to honor Hackl again, the greatest luger in history.