Lugers put U.S. on record medal run

Silver, bronze among 14 won by Americans

13 was previous high

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 16, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - In the blink of an eye, American lugers made sure the United States at least tied its record for most medals in the Winter Games.

Doubles teammates Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin and Chris Thorpe and Clay Ives took the silver and bronze medals yesterday before the largest crowd ever to see an Olympic luge competition. The two sleds were separated by just .004 of a second at the end of two runs.

Their performance gave the United States its 12th and 13th medals, tying the totals in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 and Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The mark was broken when Chris Klug later won a bronze in the parallel giant slalom snowboarding.

Germany's team of Patric-Fritz Leitner and Alexander Resch took the gold medal, finishing ahead of Grimmette and Martin by .134.

The track record was broken three times within a matter of minutes, first by another German team, then by Thorpe and Ives and finally by the gold medalists, who covered the nearly mile-long course in 42.953 seconds.

"Just bombing down at the bottom of the course, I felt we could barely hold it together," Thorpe said. "I felt we were going to break apart in pieces."

Leitner and Resch, two-time world champions, have a hard-driving style that sometimes leads to spectacular crashes. They gave the Americans hope for gold when they tapped the wall coming out of curve 14 on the second run.

"I never believed that fools like us could win the gold medal at the Olympics," Leitner said. "We are extremely happy we won the gold medal and frankly, we wouldn't have thought that we could."

This is the second strong showing at the Olympics by the men's doubles team. Thorpe, with now-retired partner Gordy Sheer, won the silver medal in 1998, and Grimmette and Martin won the bronze.

But the next Olympics will have one fewer veteran American team.

"This is our last race," said Thorpe, 31. "Thorpe and Ives are officially retired."

Martin said the U.S. luge development program has helped ensure a higher level of competition."

[Today's result] definitely shows that the program is working," he said. "I saw it [featured] in the newspaper and said, `This seems like a fun thing to do for an afternoon,' and here I am 14 years later and proud of every minute of it."

Earlier this week, Adam Heidt had a fourth-place finish in men's singles, the best in history by an American, and Becky Wilczak finished fifth, tying the best finish.

Thorpe, whose wife is expected to deliver their first child in a few weeks, confessed to being more nervous than he had ever been. Ives came through with a last-minute talk at the top of the track just before the final run.

"I said, `If she can do that, we can do this,' " Ives recalled. "Let's put one down."

The capacity crowd of 15,000 brought the five-day attendance total for men's, women's and doubles competition to 69,547.

Said Thorpe: "It was just chaos. It was madness. In 17 years of sliding, I've never felt that much emotion."

More Olympics

Today's TV: Chs. 11, 4, 1-6 p.m., 8-11 p.m., 11:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.; MSNBC, 9-11 a.m.; CNBC, 6:30 p.m.-12 a.m.

Speed skating: Short-track star Ohno starts multiple medal quest. [Page 6c]

Hockey: LeClair's three goals help U.S. men open with 6-0 rout of Finland. [Page 7c]

Bobsled: U.S. men eager to end 46-year slide. [Page 7c]

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