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 Luge section

  Kennedy Crashes in Luge: 'It Was All or Nothing'

By Angus Phillips
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 1994; Page D1

LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Feb. 14 — "He will not come down here, I can tell you that," said the U.S. luge team spokesman. "I know Duncan Kennedy and no one will see him before sometime tonight. He needs to cool down."

Moments before, Kennedy, America's top luger who twice has come to the Olympics a medal favorite and gone home empty, had crashed spectacularly on the tail end of a lightning run that should have put him in third place, primed for a bronze at the XVII Winter Games.

"You can wait," said spokesman Dimitry Feld to a crowd of fans and reporters waiting to comfort and quiz Kennedy after the disqualifying crash, "but he will not come."

Yet even as he spoke a forlorn figure was trundling down the snowy hillside in shabby tennis shoes, a three-day growth of beard on his cheeks and the somber look of defeat in his eyes.

"Duncan didn't run from the skinheads in Germany," said a friend, Anne-Marie Jeffords of Connecticut, who was waiting with a hug and a smile. "He's not going to run from a few TV cameras."

Kennedy took a beating defending a black teammate in Oberhof, Germany, last fall, and in the process established himself as the U.S. team leader. So it was a new and larger Kennedy who opted to deal with today's woe in public this time.

He stood tall. "It was a medal or nothing," said Kennedy of the wild ride leading to his wild crash, "and I got nothing."

The crash was a big step down from heady heights for the 26-year-old from Lake Placid, N.Y. Kennedy stood second overall on the World Cup circuit going into the Olympics, with medals in four of six competitions.

And he stood fourth after the first day of competition here Sunday, poised for a medal run in the final two heats today. Glory beckoned, especially after third-place Armin Zoggeler of Italy brushed the track wall at the start in his first heat and came in two-tenths of a second off the leader's pace.

Next came Kennedy, who was on a scorching run with just three turns left on the 16-turn track when trouble struck; his last interim time was just four-hundredths off the track record and two-tenths ahead of Zoggeler's when he skittered out of Turn 13 and felt the runners on his sled go "squirrelly."

"I was going for it," said Kennedy. "That was my plan, to really go, but I crossed the line a little bit. I had too much pressure [speed] coming out of 13 and it caught up with me halfway down the straight.

"You cross the line, you ride the edge, you pay the price."

Spectators standing trackside at the entrance to Turn 14 saw the whole grisly package whistle by at 75 mph — Kennedy bouncing off the straightaway wall, his head popping up to search for a line to regain control, then schussing into Turn 14 too high.

Man and machine began a skittering slide where the Olympic circles show through the ice in the steep banking and suddenly Kennedy was off the sled and he and his gear were spinning in a treacherous dance.

"It's amazing," said Kennedy, who limped off with no long-term bodily damage, "that you can crash like that at 75 miles an hour and not get hurt."

He clung to his sled but ground to a halt just short of the finish line; when he failed to cross he was out of the Games, disqualified from even attempting a fourth and final run.

The winner was German George Hackl, who led coming into today's final two heats but briefly relinquished first place when Austrian Markus Prock set a course record on the rock-hard morning ice in the first run (air temperature was 11 degrees below zero).

But Hackl regained the lead with a smooth second run to take the gold by 13/100ths of a second after four runs; Prock was second and Zoggeler third.

Kennedy's teammate, Wendel Suckow of Marquette, Mich., strung together two solid runs today to rise from ninth place to fifth, the best finish ever for an U.S. luger; Kennedy's 10th place in Albertville in 1992 was the previous best.

Suckow, 26, who won last year's world championships in Calgary, said he has plenty of room left to improve and is aiming for the 1998 Games in Japan. "My starts are really slow," he said. "My thing for the next year will be to get a blazing start and put more pressure on these guys."

American Robert Pipkins wound up 16th. Pipkins is the African-American from Staten Island, N.Y., who was singled out by skinheads at a bar near Oberhof when the team was competing there last October.

Teammates sent Pipkins home to avoid a row and Kennedy was the last man out after shepherding his teammates to the door. The skinheads jumped him and beat him bloody in an incident that attracted world attention.

Pipkins, asked if he had carried especially high hopes for Kennedy into the Games in light of what happened, said no. "He's my teammate," said Pipkins. "I'd want him to do well whether he saved my life or not."

"It was a hectic year off the ice," said Kennedy, who stayed to the bitter end of a long round of interviews before heading off to commiserate with family. "I've had my disappointments and my good moments. I've grown a lot in the sport. But I crashed in the Olympics. What can you say?

"I did my best. I was going fast. There's 1,000 emotions going through me right now. I'm still in shock."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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