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US Luge Racers Martin and Grimmette Close On and Off Sled

  • David Byrd

Grimmette is taller and heavier that Martin, but Brian drives the sled - with Grimmette lying on top of him. The arrangement calls for a closeness of thought that would challenge even the best co-workers. It's a good thing they are friends as well. Grimmette says that being the larger of the two sliders serves a specific purpose.

"The bigger guy always goes on top for two reasons: one, aerodynamically I completely cover Brian so the air flow is nice and smooth over our bodies as we go down the track," said Mark Grimmette. "And, two if Brian was on top and I was on the bottom we'd need a much bigger sled."

This arrangement leaves Martin blind, a position that requires the utmost communication before racing. Martin told VOA Sports that he and Grimmette prepare for their race mentally before they ever get on the sled, and they have to do it quickly because there is not much time to argue strategy.

"It's all kind of pre-gaming it, and saying 'this is what I think is happening on the sled; this is what we need to change on the sled," he said. "We need to do X, Y, and Z at this point.' And you go down the run and you try X, Y, and Z. That kind of communication is vital both on and off the sled and that's what makes good people good.

Martin says any communication has to come off the track, because the sled is moving so fast that there is not time to say what needs to change before the opportunity is lost.

The two men came from different backgrounds - Brian Martin is from Palo Alto, California, and Grimmette is from Muskegon, Michigan. But they work so well together that their names - Brian and Mark - are almost like one name in luge circles. Martin says they share hobbies off the ice as well - and even lived together in Lake Placid while his house was under construction. Martin told VOA sports that he worked on Grimmette's house instead of paying rent.

"We re-landscaped the front yard, we painted the deck," said Brian Martin. "It's fun. We tore down a wall at his place. He helped me a lot last year at my place. I had to put on a new deck because the deck that I had was a bit spongy and I was afraid I was going to have some sort of party and the whole deck was going to come down. It's always been that way, sort of 'hey, can you come over and give me a hand doing this?'"

Grimmette also relies on Martin because of his back injury. In 2003 the American herniated a disc in his back and the injury has hindered his performance. But Grimmette says he and Martin have found ways around his injury especially at the start of a race.

"When my back is feeling good, we try to get it back to where we normally would be during a start," he said. "Sometimes I just have to say 'Brian, I need to knock it down a couple notches today; let's just take it easy and just roll off instead of actually do a [push] start.' We pick events now where I can push it [go all out] and where I can't push it."

Another passion the two sliders share is wake surfing - riding a surfboard in the wake of a 1980s vintage water ski boat they converted and dubbed "the Ship of Fools." Former USA slider and current team spokesman Gordy Sheer told VOA that the Ship of Fools provides Grimmette, Martin - and him - with some warm-weather relaxation and excitement.

"Wake surfing, for those who don't know, is basically riding a surf board behind a boat and creating an endless wave, and surfing behind that wave without being pulled in any way behind the boat," said Gordy Sheer. "It's really a nice way to enjoy a relaxing day on the lake without all the injuries that could be associated with water skiing."

The two sliders will need to stay relaxed as they compete on the Vancouver track - widely regarded as a very tough run that allows little room for mistakes. But team spokesman Gordy Sheer says if anyone can negotiate the Whistler Olympic track, Grimmette and Martin can.

"Mark and Brian are just two really hard working guys," said Sheer. "They are in the sport for all the right reasons. They are there because they love it. And that's really admirable, that is something you like to see in athletes today."

Brian Martin and Mark Grimmette have not been as successful in the World Cup standings this season as they would have liked. The dominant German team of Andre Florschütz and Torsten Wustlich, as well as top sliders from Italy and Austria will challenge the Americans' Olympic dreams. But the two friends have a confidence that despite injury, treacherous tracks and stiff competition, they can bring home a gold from Vancouver.

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