The Italian Almanac

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Armin Zoeggeler

Armin the Cannibal

Luge specialist Armin Zoeggeler will be Italy's flag-carrier at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Italian Olympic Committee announced. Zoeggeler has won five individual Olympic luge medals in a career stretching back over 20 years, including the golds he claimed in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006.

The 39-year-old picked up the nickname the 'cannibal' for his ability to gobble up the competition during his long dominance of his sport in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is the only Italian to have won medals at five consecutive Winter Olympics - in addition to his golds, he also took bronze at Lillehammer in 1994 and Vancouver in 2010 and silver in Nagano in 1998. He has also been crowned world champion six times.

The quiet Carabiniere police officer from a German-speaking minority in the northern region of Alto Adige also won the luge World Cup 10 times between 1997 and 2011. Some might say this is even more impressive than his world championship and Olympic crowns as the World Cup measures an athlete's performance over an entire season, rather than his ability to get things right on the big occasion.

Zoeggeler's passion for his sport started with bobsledding when he was a small child. He began natural track luging at the age of seven. He switched to artificial track luging when he was 14 and soon became junior world champion. He has been on the Italian national team since 1992.