After capturing Olympic bronze in 1998 and silver in 2002, Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin showed up at the Olympics four years ago ready to complete the medal ascent.
Then they could have happily slid away, gold medals in hand, having won essentially all there is for doubles teams to win in luge.
Only it didn’t work out that way. Not even close.
They crashed out of the 2006 Turin Games, no medal to be found, and there was plenty of speculation that their final Olympic moment together would be that wreck. After all, they were the oldest members of the U.S. team, surely unable to hang on for another four years and reach the Vancouver Games, right?
Well, here they are.
“I never expected to be in the sport this long,” said Grimmette, who’ll turn 39 before competing in his fifth Olympics next month. “It just kind of happened.”
It wasn’t easy, but it just kind of happened that the most decorated team in USA Luge history is going to the Olympics again, survivors of a win-or-go-home selection race against the team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall last month to get the second and final spot on the Vancouver-bound roster.
They are undeterred despite being 14th in the World Cup standings after finishing 11th on Saturday in Koenigssee, Germany, where the top American team of Christian Niccum and Dan Joye finished sixth. To Grimmette and Martin, it’s all about peaking for the Vancouver Games, which figure to be their Olympic farewell.
“We definitely hadn’t planned on leaving this to the last minute to make the Olympic team,” Grimmette said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit this past fall, but really in the past couple weeks we’ve been learning a little more about our sled and about our sliding.”
Yes, they’re still learning, even after 14 years together and what’s soon to become a combined nine Olympic appearances.
They were perhaps an unusual pairing at first, Grimmette from Muskegon, Mich., Martin from Palo Alto, Calif. Grimmette seems to be the quieter one, Martin exudes California cool. After 65 international medals together — six of them bronze from world championships, two more medals from the Olympics — they can even think in unison now.
“Been that way for the last 10 years,” said Martin, who will turn 36 later this month.
This pairing wouldn’t have worked without a friendship that goes well beyond the track.
There really isn’t any individuality at play here. They’re always known as Mark and Brian, Grimmette and Martin, never one without the other. They slide together, train together, even play together during the summer on an old boat they share with former Olympic teammate and current USA Luge marketing director Gordy Sheer.
“It’s an escape,” Martin said. “You’re training all week, and come the afternoon, come 4 o’clock, it’s sunny out and the water’s starting to flatten out, so there’s nothing more fun than to kind of escape and go out there and goof around on the lake and have fun with a couple of your good friends.”
They have a sense of humor, too.
Have to, or else they wouldn’t survive in the USA Luge team room.
In sliding terms, Grimmette and Martin are, well, old. Look at the U.S. women’s team by comparison — Julia Clukey, at 24, is the oldest on the Olympic women’s roster. World champion Erin Hamlin, just 23. Two contenders who just missed spots on the women’s squad, Emily Sweeney and Kate Hansen, can’t even vote yet.
“They’re the leaders of the team,” Clukey said. “We’re really fortunate that we have the team atmosphere that we do. … It’s definitely a joke on the team, Mark started sliding the year I was born, and I remind him of it at least once a week that he is that old. But we’re lucky to have veterans like that on the team.”
Clukey’s going to her first Olympics, and is thrilled.
Don’t think for a second that the thrill is any less for Grimmette and Martin.
“I think a lot of that preparation starts four years before,” Martin said. “But having been there several times, the thing that I’d like to pass along to athletes who maybe haven’t been there yet is, it’s everything that you imagine times 100. It’s so much more exciting, it’s so much more press, there’s just a buzz in the air that’s totally infectious.”
And maybe that’s what they need.
Both profess to like the track at the Whistler Sliding Center, where luge, bobsled and skeleton will be held at the Vancouver Games. There won’t be anyone in the Olympic field that Grimmette and Martin haven’t beaten before. And their experience, surely, has to count for something.
Maybe it would be an unlikely gold, but to them, hardly an unfeasible one, either.
“You want to be able to do your best at the Olympic Games,” Grimmette said. “You don’t want to make the team and be a spectator when you know you’ve taken it from another team. And I’m a perfectionist. I want to do well.”