by | Feb 12, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MITCH ALBOMPARK CITY, Utah — Sure, I’d love to be an Olympic athlete. But not if my nickname has to be “The Speeding White Sausage.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll bet there’s an endorsement deal in there somewhere, maybe with Denny’s.

But when it comes to powerful athletic images, “The Speeding White Sausage” leaves me cold. Cold sausage. Ugh. That’s even worse.

Nonetheless, the man known as “The Speeding White Sausage” made some waffle-sized Olympic history Monday. Germany’s Georg Hackl, who has been described as “linklike” — another phrase I never want associated with my career — won a silver medal in the men’s luge singles.

That goes with his gold medal from the 1998 games, his gold from 1994, his gold from 1992 and his silver from 1988.

Five Olympics. Five medals. All gold or silver. Wow. The last breakfast meat to be that celebrated was Kevin Bacon. Or Jack Ham. Or Chief Justice Warren Burger.

I’m stopping before I pull a muscle.

Hackl, 35, is simply the king of luge, a sport in which the whole idea is to lie as still as you can on a sled. No wonder The Sausage is admired. A T-bone steak could set a world record.

You see, in luge, unlike figure skating, weight is speed. Because of that, your body shape is not critical. There are no awards for musculature. In fact, the more you weigh, the better you can slide. In years past, lugers stuck small rubber discs inside their speed suits for extra heft.

And nobody discouraged the pre-race milkshake.

Which is why, in my opinion, luge should immediately be declared The Official Winter Sport of the USA.

Jared from Subway is losing ground every day.

The stuff of legend

Anyhow, Hackl, The Sausage, nearly pulled off an even more impressive feat than five straight Olympic medals. Had he grabbed the gold, he would have joined Carl Lewis (long jump), Al Oerter (discus) and Paul Elvstrom (sailing) as the only Olympians to earn gold in the same event in four straight games — and the first Winter Olympian ever to do it.

Yet compared to Lewis or Oerter, Hackl might as well be anonymous, a mere garnish at the Olympic breakfast buffet.

Such is the life of a link — er, luger.

“I’m getting a silver and that’s great,” said Hackl, who finished, in a thrilling race, behind younger rival Armin Zoeggeler from Italy. This was huge in luge. Zoeggeler had won bronze in 1994 and silver in 1998. He was coming. The Sausage could feel him like an approaching spatula.

“It was his time,” Hackl said. “This second place is where I belong. Armin is the right Olympic champion. We are all sportsmen here.”

You see that? Humility? Can you imagine Allen Iverson saying that?

Then again, can you imagine Iverson being named after a side dish?

That’s because luge kings like Hackl, while being royalty at the ice track, are blue collar everywhere else. Georg — pronounced “Gae-horg” — comes from the Bavarian region of Germany, where he still toasts his victories with steins of beer. Occasionally, after a big victory, he’ll shake his German booty to Oktoberfest music and even slap on the lederhosen.


Well, we said he was a regular guy. If they gave him a TV show, it’d be
“Everybody Loves Hackl.”

By the way, thanks to his phenomenal ability to stay flat on a speeding sled, Hackl has another nickname:


Hmm. This sport is really kind to its superstars, don’t you think?

A sport for big bellies

But then, luge is that kind of world. It takes the kids who weren’t pretty enough to be figure skaters, weren’t fast enough to be speedskaters and weren’t big enough to be hockey players, and gives them a sled, a helmet and a chance at glory.

Take Adam Heidt, the top U.S. performer Monday. He just missed a medal, finishing fourth behind Austria’s Markus Prock, another luge legend. It was the highest individual finish for a U.S. slider.

“I made history,” said a happy Heidt.

And Adam is perfect for the role. At 5-feet-10 and 200 pounds, he is not exactly svelte. You can’t see him tossing Tara Lipinski into the air. He lists his occupation as “plumber.” And he’s not kidding. Away from the luge track, he helps his father fix sinks on Long Island.

“I had a great time,” said Heidt, whose nickname is Smooth Boy. “Hearing the crowd yell ‘USA!’ I had chills down my spine.”

So did most of the crowd. There were 14,000 people at the luge track, which is 13,990 more than there used to be in the early days. Even Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, was on hand Monday. Perhaps he knows what the rest of the world is finding out. Fans are tired of sequins. They want real men with bellies.

Or maybe Jacques is just a sausage lover.

“It was a pretty intense race, being in the middle of guys like Hackl, Zoeggeler and Prock,” said Heidt, summing up the competition. “But they’re not indestructible. We can get them.”

Of course we can. We invented the hamburger.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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