PARK CITY, Utah - Call him Ziggy Stardust.
Armin Zoeggeler, who won the silver medal in men's luge in 1998 and the bronze in 1994, now has a complete set.
The Italian police officer in the blindingly shiny helmet, who answers to the nickname Ziggy, stepped out from the shadow of two giants yesterday to win the gold.
Georg Hackl of Germany, the three-time gold medalist going for an unprecedented fourth, found himself in the unfamiliar position of second place at the end of two days of competition. His longtime rival, Markus Prock of Austria, took the bronze.
With his silver from the 1988 games, Hackl became the first Winter Olympian to win five consecutive medals.
Adam Heidt finished fourth, the best-ever showing for an American. "I was thinking medal since my first run," he said. "But fourth in the world isn't bad."
Heidt completed his last race with one of the spikes from his paddling gloves embedded in his right pinky. "You just block that out," he said. "I got my full three paddles, but they weren't as aggressive as they might have been."
Hackl was all smiles after the race and insisted he was not disappointed with his runner-up status. But he broke down and cried at a news conference as he discussed his 62-year-old father, who died of a heart attack three days after Christmas while watching his son race. Hackl dedicated his medal to him.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, on hand to watch Hackl's run at Winter Games history, called the race "a clash of the giants."
Sure enough, on opening day Sunday, Hackl looked like the man to beat, with a second-place run and a first-place finish that set a track record. But yesterday a disastrous third run opened the door for Zoeggeler, 28.
"After the third race, I did not think I had a chance. [Zoeggeler] was like clockwork," said Hackl, 35.
Zoeggeler won the first and last of the four races and sandwiched two second places in between.
Prock hung tough, getting better as the competition progressed. His third run time of 44.271 seconds, broke Hackl's track record. (Luge is the only Winter Olympic sport timed to thousandths of a second).
But Zoeggeler looked like a man who had every nerve surgically removed from his body. Yesterday, he visited with spectators and watched ski jumping practice nearby during the four-hour gap between his first and second races
"Sure, this is tough to hang around and play the waiting game," he said. "I felt fairly confident and at peace."
Zoeggeler was not to be denied, and after winning the gold, the two giants of luge hoisted him to their shoulders.
For Prock, 37, it was most likely the last race in a career that began in 1976.
"A medal was my goal and I achieved it," said the two-time silver medalist. "More was possible, but I missed it because of a bad first run. I am 99.9 percent sure this was my last race."
However, the wily Hackl left the door slightly ajar. "Right now, I can't imagine sliding four years from now. But I could change my mind."
Spectators at the top of the mile-long ice chute chanted the name of each competitor, which startled Prock, who was just ahead of Heidt in the standings.
"This was unique to me," said Prock. "I would have expected them to whistle and boo, but they were just fantastic."
The Americans, who complain that they are better known in Europe than at home, also had nothing but praise for the capacity crowd of 14,000.
"It's one of the best crowds I've ever seen," said Nick Sullivan, who finished 26th. "You try to focus, but you're sitting there with the biggest smile on your face."
Even Tony Benshoof, who took himself out of the competition on the second run of the first day, falling from seventh to 29th place, loved what the crowd did.
"It was the worst race in my career, but it was the best race," said Benshoof, who wound up 17th.
Today's TV: Chs. 11, 4, 4-5 p.m. and 8-11:30 p.m.; MSNBC, 1-6 p.m.; CNBC, 6 p.m.-midnight
Snowboarding: U.S. men sweep halfpipe. [Page 4d]
Skiing: Women's downhill postponed. [Page 4d]
Curling: "Miracle" shot lifts Americans. [Page 5d]