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Grimmette, Martin Hoping for Olympic Gold in Luge Doubles Competition


They are the top doubles luge team in the United States and have won bronze and silver medals in the Olympics. They also have captured World Championship medals and three overall World Cup titles. But as VOA's David Byrd reports, next year in Turin, Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin hope to capture the one thing missing from their trophy case - an Olympic gold medal.

Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin could not have come from more different backgrounds. Grimmette is from Michigan, where there is heavy ice and snowfall and he helped build a luge track when he was 14. Martin is from Palo Alto California, where the average temperature is between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius and there is no snowfall.

But these two men have built a partnership that has won more than 50 international medals and rivals any relationship in sports. They seem to move as one, a unity which has been forged partly by friendship and partly by necessity.

In the sport of doubles luge, even the slightest movement can be the difference between medals and misery. Grimmette says good communication is the key to keeping the partnership going and successful.

"We communicate very well with one another on and off the track. When you are sliding at 70-80 miles an hour [113-129 KPH] down the track you definitely want to be able to be honest with one another and admit mistakes," he says. "And sometimes you have to swallow your pride. But it is really that communication that has kept us together and has us going fast."

And the American doubles team has been "going fast" very well in recent years. Grimmette and Martin finished second at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and earned a bronze medal at the Nagano Winter Games in 1998. They have also won World Cup titles and World Championship medals.

In doubles luge, competitors lie on the sled in what seems like an awkward position - on their backs, with one, the driver, atop the other. The driver watches the course and steers with his feet; the man on the bottom helps control the direction of the sled by shifting his body weight in concert with his partner.

Martin says that he and Grimmette have developed a chemistry that is vital - and not unusual - in the sport.

"We both influence how the sled is driven and the line it takes," he explains. "We both can affect the sled, and therefore you need to know at a more exact level what that other person is doing. You need to know what the other guy is thinking in every situation so that when a problem does arise you react the same and you get yourself out of a situation before it becomes disastrous."

To make sure their profile is as fast as possible, Grimmette and Martin have worked with an aerospace company wind tunnel in California. Grimmette says the wind tunnel helped them understand exactly how the slightest body motion can affect their times.

"You really get a sense for how important it is to have good aerodynamic position," he says. "When we are lying down on that sled in the wind tunnel and you try picking your head up or anything like that and you can really feel the force. And that's the place to really refine your aerodynamic position."

One factor Grimmette and Martin will not have to deal with is a treacherous turn in the Turin course that caused several accidents during early test runs. Italian organizers have changed the configuration, which Martin says makes the track a little more forgiving.

"They have essentially lowered the roof of the track, and tightened the profile of the curve. And effectively that will contain the sled more; it will force the sled on to a line. It is a much narrower area and that should help people that are not quite on the precise line to exit the curve safely," he says.

Should Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin win Olympic gold in Turin, they would accomplish something that no other Winter Games male athlete has done before - win three consecutive medals in three successive Olympics. The only other U.S. athletes to accomplish that feat are figure skater Beatrix Loughran and speedskater Bonnie Blair.

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