Double trouble: US lugers Grimmette and Martin finish 13th; Austrians defend Olympic gold

By Tom Withers, AP
Thursday, February 18, 2010

US lugers miss gold again

WHISTLER, British Columbia — The one medal, the shiniest medal, is still missing.

For Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, Olympic gold remains out of reach.

Maybe for good.

Grimmette and Martin, the best doubles team in U.S. luge history, finished a disappointing 13th on Wednesday night, way behind Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger, who doubled their personal gold medal count by winning for the second straight games.

Doomed by a left-hand turn they performed perfectly in practice but not when it counted, Grimmette and Martin weren’t even close.

“It’s hugely disappointing,” Martin said. “We did it so well yesterday, twice, and I was cautiously optimistic, but I was optimistic that we had it figured out. I’d kill for 10 more runs from that start to really figure it out but we didn’t have that opportunity.

“So that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Four years ago in Italy, they crashed. This time, Grimmette and Martin made it to the bottom of both runs on the Whistler Sliding Center track, but that was little consolation for a team that has won 64 international medals but can’t get their hands on their sport’s biggest.

“It’s always fun racing, no matter what,” said Grimmette, a five-time Olympian. “Yeah, we took four years trying to get back to here and the Olympics and stuff. And it’s great being here. Racing is always fun. It can be disappointing at times and frustrating at times — very frustrating at times — but it’s still fun.”

Grimmette and Martin plan to continue racing, and it’s still not out of the question they could make another run at gold in 2014.

“I would be surprised if they’re done,” said Christian Niccum, who finished sixth with teammate Dan Joye. “They’ve got four more years in them.”

Niccum and Joye’s placing was respectable for the American team no one seemed to give a chance.

The Lingers completed their two heats in 1 minute, 22.705 seconds. Andris and Juris Sics of Latvia finished in 1:22.969 and won silver, and Germany’s Patric Leitner and Alexander Resch took bronze with a time of 1:23.404.

The Lingers joined Germany’s Hans Rinn and Norbert Hahn (1976 and 1980) as the only doubles team to repeat as champions.

“Just great,” Andreas Linger said. “We’ll realize it in a couple of days, I think.”

The Lingers were typical European children. They played soccer, went skiing and dabbled at a few of the team sports. But once they tried luge, the Linger boys separated themselves from the other kids. Invited to try the track at Igls, site of the sliding events for the 1964 and 1976 Innsbruck Games, they proved to be naturals on the ice.

Fearless and fast, they began a sliding career in tandem that has now made two pit stops atop an Olympic medal podium.

When they skittered into the finish area and the second gold was theirs, Andreas clenched both fists in front of his face and screamed. Then, he sat down on the track wall next to his younger brother, pulled his red sled off the track and planted a kiss on it.

Moments later, the Lingers threw their arms around each other’s shoulder and wrapped themselves in an Austrian flag like the one Andreas carried in while leading his country’s delegation into the opening ceremony.

There would be no such moment for Grimmette and Martin, sliding in their fourth Olympics together.

Just like the U.S. women lugers, the start finished the Americans.

It was turn one and done.

Actually, the competition began at the sixth curve on the 16-turn track after officials, concerned for the athletes’ safety, moved all three luge competitions lower on Blackcomb Mountain to slow racers following the death of Georgian men’s slider Nodar Kumarishtavili, killed in a crash during practice last Friday.

Grimmette and Martin had trouble negotiating the hard left during practice earlier this week, but seemed to have figured it out on Tuesday when they had the second-best times.

But after paddling away from the starting bars, the most decorated doubles luge team in U.S. history took the wrong approach into the tricky turn and found themselves wobbling for a few critical seconds, just long enough to see their gold-medal hopes evaporate into the biting evening air.

Once at the bottom, Martin yanked off his face shield and waved his arms in disgust.

“We brushed up on the wall, and that messed up our timing,” Grimmette said.

By the time the second heat began, the sun had sunk behind the snow-capped mountains.

Things had darkened for the Americans much earlier.

Grimmette and Martin had prepared for Whistler’s incomparable speed in Park City, where they worked hard on their start and where their confidence grew by the day.

When they arrived in Vancouver, anything seemed possible. When Grimmette was chosen to be the U.S. team’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, it was as if fate were smiling on the close friends, who have spent the past 14 years polishing their craft together.

But the new start changed everything.

“On that start, everything has to be precise in the timing,” Grimmette said. “Otherwise, you’re not going to get the start curve.”

They were primed for the podium in 2006, but crashed in Cesana, Italy, a wreck that seemed to signal the end for this terrific tandem. But they decided to give it one more shot, trained as hard as ever and won a race-off in December over Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall to earn the final spot on the U.S. luge team.

They came to Vancouver with gold in their crosshairs.

They missed their target.


February 19, 2010: 12:17 am

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