Duncan Kennedy spent last week sliding, which is luge talk for getting on the sled and going down the hill. But what he's really got to guard against is slipping. Kennedy is one of the U.S.'s best hopes for an Olympic medal in luge, a sport that has recently been forced into the spotlight by neo-Nazi skinheads, a group that, come to think of it, should be loaded onto sleds and sent down the side of a mountain.
Anyway, the U.S. has never made much of a blip on the Olympic luge radar screen, its best finishes being a fifth in women's singles by Dartmouth student Cammy Myler and a 10th in men's singles by Kennedy, both in '92. But that changed on the evening of Oct. 29 when Kennedy stepped in front of a horde of skinheads bent on attacking Robert Pipkins, a black teammate, in a bar in Oberhof, a resort in what used to be East Germany.
Kennedy, 25, of Lake Placid, N.Y., sustained cuts and bruises (he did not require hospitalization) but in the process became a virtual folk hero. Owing both to the timing (three months before the Winter Games in Lillehammer) and the irresistible angle (athletic hero faces down punks), the story has become front-page news not only in America but all over the world as well. As Bob (Bullet) Hughes, the spokesperson of the U.S. Luge Association, says, "This story has such legs."
Unfortunately for Kennedy and mates, the attention has started to affect their preparation for Lillehammer. The team spent last week training in Igls, Austria, which is near the German border, and the German press has been swarming around the Americans. "Duncan's having problems with his sled, but it's hard for him to concentrate on getting it straightened out with the media around," said Hughes. Such a problem was unimaginable one month ago.
Even without the attack, this might have been the Olympics in which U.S. lugers finally made some noise. Wendell Suckow, the reigning world singles champion, and Kennedy, currently ranked third in the world, are definite threats to win medals, and Myler has turned her attention from her studies back to the sled; both she and Kennedy finished only one point out of first place in the 1992 World Cup standings.
Ironically, one of the final pre-Olympic tests is back in Oberhof. "And we'll be there," said team manager Claire Sherred.
Name That Goon
Under first-year commissioner Gary Bettman, the NHL is trying to lose its brawling image. To that end perhaps the league should ask the following players to change their mayhem-invoking names.
D—Stuart Malgunas, Flyers.
D—Garth Butcher, Blues.
F—Adam Graves, Rangers.
F—Darren Rumble, Senators.
F—Bob Corkum, Mighty Ducks.
G—Jeff Hackett, Blackhawks.