Moeller looks to slide past Hackl

To see a perfect luge run through the eyes of David Moeller, pull his helmet on.

Painted horizontally on the inside is a thin, blue stripe. If you can see the track over the top of the line as you lay on your back, rocketing down the course, you've lifted your head too high for an aerodynamic run. Peer below the line and your body becomes an extension of the tiny sled beneath you.


For the past two seasons, Moeller's eyes have been riveted to a spot under the line and beyond. The 24-year-old German is poised to replace his teammate, Georg Hackl, the most decorated slider in history, with five Olympic medals - three of them gold - and three world championships.

The changing of the guard could happen on Feb. 11 and 12 in Cesana, Italy, the site of Olympic competition.


Moeller, who began sliding in 1991, gave notice of his promise with two junior world titles. He surprised the competition in 2004 by earning the senior world championship in Nagano, with the Japanese symbol for "warrior" painted on the back of his helmet. Last year, he claimed the bronze medal.

He ended the current season at his home track in Oberhof, Germany, last weekend as runner-up to Italy's Armin Zoeggeler for the overall World Cup title.

"I'm the fastest German now," said Moeller without a trace of conceit. "I'm stronger. I've got more weight. I'm faster at the start. Sorry to Georg, but he's an old man. That's how it works in sports."

Hackl, 39, does not appear to mind, calling Moeller, "the best" to come along in years.

"I'm too long in this sport to be envious," he said in an interview two years ago at the start of Moeller's rise. "I am very pleased that a German luger has shown what he is capable of, in particular because I have a very good relationship to David Moeller."

That's not to say the two men are buying each other beers.

"I ask him, but he doesn't tell me," said Moeller about getting advice. "You learn from him by looking at him."

And the wily Hackl isn't about to roll over for this young man, or any other one. None of the top competitors is counting him out.


"I see a bit of a gap between the top four or five and the rest of the field," said Tony Benshoof, the top American slider. "It's going to be Armin Zoeggeler, Albert Demtschenko, me and Moeller fighting it out among ourselves. And Georg is going to be a factor in the Games."

So Moeller, like Hackl, tries to supply his own advantage by building his sleds, ignoring the advice of his coaches to leave the job to someone else.

"Trying is better than studying. You not only build good stuff, you build stuff that doesn't work," he said.

Off season, Moeller works as a German border guard, inspecting passports and vehicles, and takes college courses with an eye toward a career in politics.

Although he grew up in a small village outside Oberhof, site of one of the World Cup tracks, luge was not Moeller's first sport.

"I was playing soccer, like every German does. But I was not so good on a bad local team," he said, smiling. "I tried sliding, and with my first run, it was fun for me."


His father works in construction. His mother is a dentist. Both of his parents are deaf.

A top-three finish in a World Cup event means Moeller will sign to his parents when he is on the podium, knowing his message will be picked up by the television cameras and passed along.

"It's not so tough. I learned two ways, speaking to deaf people and speaking to hearing people," said Moeller, who also speaks French and Italian and often helps out with translations at news conferences.

On a team of aloof athletes, Moeller stands out.

"It's tough on the German team to have friends because of the competitive pressure," he acknowledged. "You respect them, but they are not your friends."

Instead, he hangs out and plays guitar with Benshoof and another U.S. slider, Jon Myles, whom he considers his closest friend in the sport. The two met in 2001 in Norway when both were on the junior circuit.


While Myles and Moeller will both be competing for the first time in the Olympics, Myles is quick to note his friend's superior talent.

"Our relationship is definitely not talking about sliding," he said. "It's mostly about him picking me up. Even though he's been a world champion, he's never arrogant about it. I can always give him a hard time when he gets a sixth [place]."

When told of Myles' comments, Moeller smiled.

"It's nice that he's going to be in Turin with me," he said, pausing. "Hopefully, he's not in front of me."

Tomorrow: Recalling Tenley Albright's 1956 figure skating gold.