By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Defending Olympic champion Felix Loch could not have hoped for a better Sochi 2014 Olympic preparation than leading the world standings and claiming the German title days before the end of last year.
With Germany eager to be among the top nations on the medals table, the ever-smiling Loch is aware of the pressure resting on him, given his country's dominance in the sport.
German athletes have won four of the last six individual luge gold medals, interrupted only by double gold medallist Armin Zoeggeler of Italy.
The 1.91 metre-tall (6ft 3in) Loch, who credits his height and weight for giving him extra speed when he hurls himself down the icy track at more than 145 kilometres per hour (90mph), has had a near perfect run-up to the Games at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi starting in February.
He grabbed a World Cup win at Whistler, Canada, site of his 2010 Vancouver Games gold medal run, in December to go top of the overall standings before landing his fourth German title days later.
In between he was among an elite group of German athletes to be named for the Olympics as the traditional winter sports powerhouse aims to finish among the top three nations in the medals table.
"We are well set for Sochi. The preparation is going according to plan," beamed Loch, who was the youngest Olympic luge champion four years ago at age 20.
His last race of the year at Park City was less successful with Zoeggeler, who has won medals at five consecutive Games, setting the pace and Loch coming in fifth.
"I was satisfied with that run and the holiday break is more than welcome now before Sochi," the affable German told reporters.
It is this relaxed approach combined with the 24-year-old Loch's extraordinary mental toughness that have made him a household name in his sport and helped him win more gold medals than any other colour in all competitions.
The Thuringia-born Loch, who now lives in the heart of the Alps at Bavaria's Koenigssee, is a four-times individual world champion, having clinched the titles in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013.
"Because one run only takes about a minute, I must have high levels of concentration," Loch said. "This is not always easy. The external pressure is sometimes very high, plus I add pressure on myself as well."
He has the advantage of having been born into the sport with his father, also an Olympic luger for the former East Germany, now head coach of the German luge team.
When his father moved to Bavaria after the fall of communism to take over coaching the state's luge team, his son's fate seemed to have been sealed and Felix has been competing since the age of six.
"We want to be among the top three nations on the medals table in Sochi," German Olympic committee general secretary Michael Vesper said when he announced the first selections in December, with Loch leading the list.
He could hardly have picked a stronger medal hope to headline the first selection of athletes. (Editing by Ed Osmond)