Luge medalists squirm as communist GDR anthem plays

While Latvia’s bobsleigh and skeleton athletes were earning respect for their superlative runs at the world championships elsewhere in Europe, Latvia was hosting the International Luge federation’s (FIL) World Championships this weekend in Sigulda, but not without causing an extremely awkward moment for the doubles gold medalists from Germany on the podium Saturday.

Last year’s luge doubles champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt from Germany led the way to defend their title at Sigulda’s challenging artificial ice track, ahead of Austria’s silver medalists Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, and Italy’s bronze medalists Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber.

But up on the podium to receive their medals, the athletes were unpleasantly surprised by the mistaken playing of the former communist German Democratic Republic’s anthem rather than the proper national hymn of united Federal Germany. Luckily they took the mistake in stride, smiling and conferring amusedly amongst themselves while the inappropriate number sounded out. News portal skaties.lv published a brief video capture of the flummoxed athletes.

Latvian Luge Federation president Atis Strenga told national information agency LETA Monday that “it was a human error.” According to the organization’s leader “the DJ who plays back the anthems is a veteran employee at the track, but this time the ceremony was held downtown, under different conditions. It was a total blackout. Most of the Germans, of course, took no offense, but the media love these kind of things. Everyone makes mistakes,” he explained.

German newspaper Bild reported on the blooper ironically, suggesting that the organizers perhaps wished to generate some fond nostalgia for the time when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union.

His country’s faux-pas as the organizer of this year’s championship didn’t prevent Latvian luge star Andris Šics from being elected and confirmed in office as the official athlete’s representative of the FIL, together with US luger Chris Mazdzer, reported the Federation on its official website Wednesday.

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