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Luge profiles

BECKY WILCZAK — United States

It's hard to say which American woman will be Uncle Sam's best slider in Salt Lake's Games. Besides Wilczak, three other female lugers — Courtney Zablocki, Brenna Margol and Ashley Hayden — can best their teammates in a given race. But USA Luge seems to be pinning its Olympic hopes on Wilczak. She finished fourth at the World Cup event at Utah Olympic Park earlier this year. She is a likely candidate to challenge the German women, who are stronger than ever and could easily finish one-two-three in Olympic competition. Wilczak, 21, Berwyn, Ill., is the oldest of the four American women who will compete for the three Olympic slots allotted to the United States.

SYLKE OTTO — Germany

By far the world's most recognized female luger, she even has a contingency of fans that follow her from competition to competition. Since she is distinguished by her flowing blond hair, her fans — even the male ones — often don ball caps with fake blond pony tails hanging out the back.

She will head into Salt Lake City as the reigning world champion, a title she captured this year in Calgary. It was a repeat performance from the world championship she claimed in 2000.

During the 2000-01 World Cup season, she finished second overall. The season before, she finished first. She also finished first in overall World Cup points in the 1994-95 season. Otto, 32, will be looking for her first-ever Olympic medal in February.

SILKE KRAUSHAAR — Germany

She is really the chief competition for teammate Sylke Otto. In the 2000-01 World Cup season, she outdueled Otto to take the overall points title. But in the season's final and most important race — the world championships in Calgary — she finished second behind her rival.

For the past three seasons, Kraushaar, 31, and Otto have battled for the top spot in women's luge. In the 1999-2000 season, Kraushaar finished second to Otto in overall World Cup points after finishing in front of her teammate the season before. Her crowning achievement came in 1998 when she took Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan.

SONJA WIEDEMANN — Germany

As a testament to how deep the German women are, one needs to look no further than Wiedemann. During last season's World Cup event at Utah Olympic Park, she finished second. She was also crowned world champion in 1999 and finished third at the 2000 world championships. Still, while she is a threat to medal in Salt Lake City, she might not even make the German team, which, like every other country, is only allotted three slots. With Otto and Kraushaar almost shoo-ins, Wiedemann will have to fight off numerous rivals to make her country's Olympic team. If she makes it, Wiedemann, 24, would likely be the youngest female competitor from Germany — three years older than the oldest female American.

TONY BENSHOOF — United States

At the start of the 2000 season, Benshoof was an Olympic long shot and not even regarded as the best American luger. Now, however, Benshoof, 26, St. Paul, Minn., is the best the United States has to offer. While he is still somewhat of an underdog to win an Olympic medal, it's not so much of a stretch anymore. In the biggest race to date at Utah Olympic Park — last season's World Cup event — Benshoof finished with a career best at fourth, just off medal pace.

GEORG HACKL — Germany

Without a doubt he is the greatest luger — male or female — of all time. He's won three straight Olympic gold medals. And before he began his gold-medal run, Hackl took the silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Games. Fourteen years after his first Olympic medal, Hackl will be one of the favorites to win gold in Salt Lake. At 35, this could be the mighty German's final Games. If Hackl does place first he will become the first winter Olympian to win gold in four consecutive Games. But he doesn't have to win gold to make history. If Hackl wins any medal, he will become the first Winter Olympian to win a medal of any color in five consecutive Games.

ARMIN ZOEGGELER — Italy

Probably the favorite to take gold in Salt Lake, Zoeggeler is the reigning world champion and won last season's World Cup points race. If he slides to his potential, Zoeggeler is all but unbeatable. He is eight years younger than Hackl and dominates his German rival at the top of the track with strong starts. While stoic in victory, Zoeggeler is a menacing figure with long thin sideburns that end in a point near the middle of his face. Besides his world championship last season, Zoeggeler was crowned world champion in 1995 and 1999. He won a bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer, Norway, Games and a silver at the the 1998 Nagano, Japan, Olympics.

KARSTEN ALBERT — Germany

While it would take a minor miracle to keep Zoeggeler and Hackl from finishing one-two, third place is wide open. Along with Benshoof and Austrian Markus Prock, Albert has as good a chance as anyone to snatch bronze in Salt Lake. He finished fourth in last season's World Cup points race and was third in World Cup standings the year prior. Unlike most of his soldier teammates, Albert, 33, is an electrician and is married. For fun he enjoys modelmaking.

DOUBLES

MARK GRIMMETTE AND BRIAN MARTIN — United States

America's best hope for a luge medal, this pair teamed to take Olympic bronze four years ago in Nagano, Japan. Before beginning their partnership in 1996 these two worked odd jobs like busing tables and doing janitorial work.

Martin, 27, Palo Alto, Calif., is the only American luger born west of Utah. Grimmette, 30, is from more traditional luge country, Muskegon, Mich. At 6 feet 1 inch and 198 pounds, Grimmette is the top man, while the smaller Martin, 5 feet 8 inches and 160 pounds, helps steer on bottom.

The pair are the most decorated, active U.S. sliders. Besides winning Olympic bronze, the pair were the overall World Cup champions twice, in 1997-98 and again in '98-99.

They took third in the 1999-2000 World Cup season and won bronze at the 2000 World Championships.

Grimmette began sliding at 13, Martin at 14. With six World Cup victories, the pair holds USA Luge's all-time record for wins.

STEFFEN SKEL AND STEFFEN WOELLER — Germany

Probably the hottest doubles sliders in the world right now. The pair took silver in both the 2001 and 2000 World Championships. During the 1999-2000 season, the German duo paired to take the overall World Cup title. They repeated the feat during the 2000-01 season.

Like most German sliders the pair are both professional soldiers, and both speak German, English and Russian. Both will be 29 years old before the 2002 Winter Games. Besides being on a hot streak entering the Olympics, Skel and Woeller will likely be Germany's most experienced doubles team. They have been on the national team since 1992.

PATRIC LEITNER AND ALEXANDER RESCH — Germany

While they can't match Skel and Woeller's experience, Leitner and Resch are up and coming. They joined the German national team in 1998, and when the Games hit, Leitner will be a youthful 24 while Resch will be 22. Both are professional soldiers.

The pair have had success since being moved up to the national team three years ago.

They took gold at the World Championships in 1999 and again in 2000. In 1999-2000 they placed third in the overall World Cup standings and made the same mark a season later.

TOBIAS SCHIEGL AND MARKUS SCHIEGL — Austria

These brothers have been on the national team since 1993 and have been one of Austria's best doubles teams. The pair are both soldiers and are keen on American sports like mountain biking, snowboarding and football.

They took gold in the 1997 world championships and silver in 1999. Last year they settled for the bronze.

In World Cup competition, the duo have finishing in the top three only twice — both second-place finishes, one in the 1993-94 season and another in 1998-99.