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Olympics: Italy celebrates strong start in Sochi

Zoeggeler makes history with luge bronze

10 February, 19:15
Olympics: Italy celebrates strong start in Sochi (Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 10 - Sports fans here are celebrating Italy's strong start to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi after Armin Zoeggeler made history with bronze in the luge and Christof Innerhofer gave the Azzurri a rare medal in the men's downhill skiing event.

"Arrows of Italy," beamed Monday's La Gazzetta dello Sport, while the country's mainstream dailies also gave the Olympic feats front-page billing. Although Italy have a proud history in Alpine skiing, Innerhofer's silver was only the Azzurri's third medal in the men's downhill, after Zeno Colo's gold in 1952 and Herbert Plank's bronze in 1976.

It was very close to being an even better result for the 29-year-old, who has been rewarded for his perseverence after two years of trouble with back pain.

Having dealt with the highly technical top part of the course impeccably, Innerhofer came just six-hundredths of a second behind winner Matthias Mayer of Austria. If anything, veteran campaigner Zoeggeler was toasted even more, gaining the status of a "legend" in the media after becoming the first person to win medals in the same individual event at six different Olympics - summer or winter.

The 40-year-old, who, like Innerhofer, comes from the Alpine autonomous province of South Tyrol where the majority of people are German speakers, opened his account with bronze in Lillehammer, Norway, 20 years ago.

He went one better in Nagano, Japan, when he took silver in 1998, before winning back-to-back golds in Salt Lake City and Turin in 2006. Zoeggeler, who was Italy's flag-carrier at Friday's opening ceremony, also won the bronze in 2010 at Vancouver and will be looking for more glory in Sochi in the team relay on Thursday.

The quiet champion is a member of the Carabiniere police force and is known as the 'cannibal' for his ability to gobble up trophies, having also been crowned world champion six times.

"I never thought I'd be able to be like this at 40, but this was one of my best competitions," said Zoeggeler. "Four almost perfect runs and here I am. This time I'm speechless. "I didn't think I'd get a medal. I hoped I would, but the reality is different. "When I realised I could do it, I attacked," he said, adding that he took naps between his runs on Sunday.

"It's a beautiful course, technical, like a roller-coaster.

If you make one mistake, you've had it. I didn't make any mistakes". Sochi is expected to be Zoeggeler's last Olympics, but he did not announce his retirement from competition.

"The luge is the thing I love most after my wife," he said.

Innerhofer, meanwhile, will be looking for more glory in the Super G on Sunday.

Italian fans will have high hopes not just of him, after his team mates also performed well in the downhill.

Peter Fill came seventh, while Dominik Paris and Werner Heel came 11th and 12th respectively.