Speeding white sausage gives royalty a treat

 

Georg Hackl, the German luger, moves in select circles. In winning his third successive Olympic title at Nagano yesterday, the 31-year-old from Berchtesgaden, known as the Rasender Weisswurst (the speeding white sausage) proved he was even more elite than an audience at the track that included Britain's Princess Royal, Prince Albert of Monaco and Tony Banks, the British minister of sport.

Bjorn Daehlie, the Norwegian cross-country skier, could have put the speeding white sausage in the shade had he won his sxith Olympic gold to equal the Winter Games record. But he did not. Finland's Mika Myllylae won, six minutes or more ahead of Daehlie, who was 20th. Ekaterina Dafovska won the first ever winter gold for Bulgaria in the 15km biathlon.

In the 500m speedskating heats, Japan's Hiroyasu Shimizu led at the halfway stage but there was no succour for his team-mates who, with the Norwegians, had thought the go-faster stripe on the suit of the Dutch skaters - during the 5,000m on Sunday - was taking liberties. The International Skating Union threw the protest out. That decision could rebound on them.

In Karuizawa, where Japanese financiers have their holiday homes, you would not know it was the Olympic Games. Even the curling teams, based in the respectable little town and competing on the rink on its outskirts, have to remind themselves. "It's very much like a normal competition except they've got five rings on the wall," said Douglas Dryburgh, skip of the British curling team.

Outside the rink, Kariuzawa might have ticked as quietly as an atomic clock, but inside the hall the British quartet bristled their way to a noisy first-match victory against the highly rated Norwegians.

The Norwegian skip, Eigil Ramsfjell, with three world titles under his belt, could muster no argument. "They just didn't do anything wrong. They played aggressively and well and there was no question they deserved to win," he said.

There was some aggression from the host broadcasters, CBS, who having miked up the Scottish foursome for the match, had to remind them that the language they were using, more Anglo-Saxon than Celtic, might not be appreciated by their viewers.

It was a match shaped and formed in the first three ends; a two-shot advantage for the British team (extending to three in the fifth) allowed the quartet - Dryburgh, the brothers Phil and Peter Smith and Ronnie Napier - to rely on their formidable range of defensive skills for the second half.

Time and again, the Norwegian stones were clouted out of the house (the ringed target area) by some fiercely accurate deliveries. Norway pulled a single shot back in the sixth, which was countered by a British gain in the eighth end. The brooms were almost back in the cupboard before, in the ninth and penultime end, Ramsfjell clawed a point back to give some significance to the final phase.

It might have all gone horribly wrong in the final end when Norway held two stones in the house and the third British curler was on the hog (the delivery line). Peter Wilson knew from the instant that he delivered the stone that he had made a cannon as sweet as Joe Davis ever did; two Norwegian stones spun to the sides of the sheet (the playing strip) and Wilson's roar of delight echoed through the rink.

Even the Swedes, world champions and cool as iced tea, could not miss it. They might have been on their way to a 6-2 victory over the United States, but for an unsettling moment it crossed their minds that the ice men were coming.

Britain's women also won their first game - 7-5 against Japan - but came unstuck in their second match when they were overwhelmed by the Danes 9-3.

Only the fact that Canada, the burning hot favourites, lost to Norway, consoled them.