BEAR HOLLOW — Italy's Armin Zoeggeler wrapped up the 2000-01 men's World Cup luge title Saturday, winning the seventh leg of the eight-race series in track-record time at Utah Olympic Park.
With one race left at Lake Placid, N.Y., Feb. 17-18, Markus Prock of Austria, second in World Cup standings and who was also second on Saturday, cannot catch the Italian.
Zoeggeler finished with a two-run time of 1 minute, 29.391 seconds, Prock posted 1:29.557 and Frenchman Johan Rousseau was third at 1:29.798.
"It meant a lot to me to win the overall World Cup," Zoeggeler said. But, "This race was a test race and everyone was trying out the track. This one doesn't really mean so much to me because this is a new track and everybody was making mistakes."
Many lugers had special problems with turns 2 and 3 at the course's top and more often than not, athletes slammed the track wall out of turn 3.
While the future Olympic track has been open since 1997, some Europeans complained that they have been denied practice time. Luge heavyweights, like Zoeggeler, Prock and three-time Olympic Gold medalist Georg Hackl of Germany, were testing the track for the first time this week.
Hackl, who dropped from second to third in the World Cup standings after a ninth-place finish Saturday, was particularly disappointed with practice time allocations.
"There are three nations in the luge sport that the Americans fear — the Italians, the Austrians and the Germans. But we were all here for the first time this week . . . We always ask for track time and they say no," Hackl said.
Added Prock: "For sure this was the least training time we've had . . . They just won't let the good nations train here."
Americans admit they haven't exactly been hospitable but say they receive similar treatment in Europe.
"Now it's time to pay them back a little bit," said American Tony Benshoof, who finished fourth Saturday and moved into eighth in World Cup standings.
Benshoof also suggested Hackl's woes may have been over-advertised.
"Historically, Hackl has sandbagged it a little bit," Benshoof said. "I'm surprised Armin (Zoeggeler) didn't sandbag."
Benshoof referred to a luge legend — no one who has won a World Cup event on the following year's Olympic track has gone on to win Olympic gold on that track. Given the superstition, then, some athletes were less than eager to win Saturday.
Zoeggeler, however, remained confident he can be the first to go back-to-back.
"It's for some an omen, but I'm sure you can break that," he said.
Controversy and superstition aside, the cold, clear weather produced fast times and the track record fell time and time again. In total, 31 athletes bested Benshoof's previous track best of 45.595 seconds with Zoeggeler setting the new mark at 44.590.
"The track is in beautiful condition. It's just about as fast as it can get," said Benshoof, who was all smiles after back-to-back fourth-place World Cup finishes.
"I was actually very nervous. There was a lot of pressure on me," he said. "It gives me a lot of confidence to know I can do it. You always think you can compete and you want to be positive and know you can do well, but until you actually go out and do it you never really know."
The day's surprise came from Rousseau, whose third-place finish was France's best World Cup showing ever.
"I did not expect this," Rousseau said. "My goal for the year was just to qualify for the Olympics."
The initial runs for women and doubles World Cup were also held Saturday with final runs on Sunday. Doubles competition begins at 8 a.m. Sunday and the women's event starts at noon.
How they finished at Bear Hollow Saturday
Updated World Cup standings through Feb. 10:
1. Armin Zoeggeler, Italy — 615 points.
2. Markus Prock, Austria — 465.
3. Georg Hackl, Germany — 450.
4. Karsten Albert, Germany — 425.
5. Jens Mueller, Germany — 422.
6. Wilfried Huber, Italy — 362.
7. Reinhold Rainer, Italy — 321.
8. Tony Benshoof, USA — 317.
9. Albert Demtschenko, Russia — 314.
10. Johan Rousseau, France — 235.
Top 10 times for World Cup race No. 7 at Bear Hollow:
1. Armin Zoeggeler, Italy — 1 minute 29.391 seconds (44.590, 44.801).
2. Markus Prock, Austria — 1:29.557 (44.685, 44.872).
3. Johan Rousseau, France — 1:29.798 (44.815, 44.983).
4. Tony Benshoof, USA — 1:29.812 (44.828, 44.984).
5. Wilfried Huber, Italy — 1:29.906 (44.813, 45.903).
6. Karsten Albert, Germany — 1:29.928 (44.848, 45.080).
7. Denis Geppert, Germany — 1:29.940 (44.882, 45.058).
8. Jens Mueller, Germany — 1:29.942 (44.825, 45.117).
9. Georg Hackl, Germany — 1:29.970 (44.936, 45.034).
10. Tyler Seitz, Canada — 1:30.033 (44.987, 45.046).