PARK CITY, Utah (AP) – Sylke Otto of Germany won the gold medal in women’s luge on Wednesday, pulling away from teammates Barbara Niedernhuber and Silke Kraushaar in the final two heats.

It was Germany’s seventh gold medal in 11 Olympiads and its fifth medals sweep in women’s luge. The German women have won 26 of the 33 medals awarded since the sport was introduced to the Olympics in 1964.

Otto, the two-time defending world champion, had a four-run aggregate time of 2 minutes, 52.464 seconds and broke the track record twice in winning her first Olympic medal.

Niedernhuber, whose Bavarian neighbor Georg Hackl helped build her sled, earned her second straight silver with a time of 2:52.785. That earned her a measure of revenge against Kraushaar, who edged Niedernhuber for the gold in Nagano four years ago by .002 – the closest finish in Olympic history. Kraushaar won bronze this time in 2:52.865.

The United States had a strong showing. Despite faltering on her final run, Becky Wilczak of River Forest, Ill., making her first Olympic appearance, finished fifth in 2:54.254. That equaled the highest singles finish for a U.S. woman, set by Cammy Myler in 1992 at Albertville.

Just finishing the race was a triumph in itself for Wilczak because she knew her ailing father was at the track watching. He gave her a hug at the finish line in an emotional moment.

Tom Wilczak is fighting for his life. The 55-year-old former information technology manager is awaiting a call for a liver transplant, and a private jet was waiting just in case. In keeping with a family tradition, they did not speak until the racing was over.

Ashley Hayden of Westborough, Mass. finished eighth in 2:54.658. Courtney Zablocki of Highlands Ranch, Colo. finished 13th with an aggregate of 2:55.154.

The win was especially sweet for Otto, who was 13th at Albertville a decade ago, then failed to qualify for the Olympics in 1994 and 1998 because of the amazing depth on the German team.

Otto also had to overcome a broken foot suffered in training at Calgary prior to the first World Cup race of the recently completed season. And she needed an injection to relieve a stiff neck before the Olympic race began on Tuesday.

If she was ailing, it was not evident. On her third run, Otto made it down the 12-curve course at Utah Olympic Park in 42.940 seconds, breaking the track record of 43.076 seconds she had set Tuesday night in the second heat. That gave her an insurmountable lead of nearly a third of a second with one run left.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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