PYEONGCHANG, Feb 10 (Reuters) - A record-equalling third successive gold medal is within reach of Felix Loch after the German luge great emerged top of the time-sheets following an incident-packed opening session in the men's singles at the Winter Olympics on Saturday.
The 28-year-old, bidding to match his mentor Georg Hackl's golden hat-trick in the 1990s, steered his sled with a laser-like precision as his nearest rivals battled for control at the tricky Olympic Sliding Centre track.
Surprisingly pipped by David Gleirscher in the opening run, Loch found extra pace in his second to leapfrog the Austrian with an aggregate time of one minute 35.299 seconds.
As in Sochi four years ago and Vancouver in 2010, Loch will go to bed in the gold-medal position ahead of Sunday's final runs but said he would have little trouble sleeping.
"The last two times it was no problem," the beaming Bavarian, who holds a 0.188-second lead over Gleirscher, told reporters.
"So I’m looking forward to the Olympic village to go to bed.
"I would say I did everything right. (Tomorrow) the weather forecast is a little bit colder than today, so safety first."
Loch, who also won a relay gold in Sochi, had expected his main threats to come from Austrian wunderkind Wolfgang Kindl, or Russians Roman Repilov and Semen Pavlichenko.
Instead it was the unheralded Gleirscher, a 23-year-old police officer, making a big early statement before a couple of minor bumps knocked him off pace in his second run.
"It was absolutely a top feeling (to lead)," the burly Austrian laughed.
"The first run is great for the confidence, with such great speed. I hope I bring that back tomorrow."
Repilov will return in the bronze-medal position with American surprise package Chris Mazdzer only 0.001 seconds off the podium positions.
World champion Kindl was ninth after a disappointing night, while Pavlichenko lies nearly a second off the pace in 17th, his medal hopes appearing all but shot. With a bone-chilling wind blowing through the venue, a raft of lugers came to grief in the session, including Ukraine's Andriy Mandziy, who finished the last of the 40 sledders after flying off his sled at the track's perilous turn nine.
As part of a format change, the field will be shaved down to the fastest 20 for the fourth and final run on Sunday. (Editing by Clare Fallon)