America's best lugers are smoothing out the bumps en route to
Salt Lake City
This is an article from the Nov. 19, 2001 issue
It may be a new season, but at the luge World Cup series opener
last Friday in Calgary, the U.S.'s Mark Grimmette and Brian
Martin--the country's best sliding duo--were feeling a familiar
ache, one they know they have to conquer. Days before the 1998
Olympics, Grimmette was fighting what he thought was a stomach
virus; Martin was suffering from a knot in his back. "As soon as
we finished," Martin recalls, "the pain was gone." Grimmette's
stomach? Ready for pizza. "We were the first U.S. lugers favored
to win the Olympics," says Grimmette, who now recognizes nerves
as the source of those pre-Games maladies. "Once we got the
bronze, I had no more symptoms."
Grimmette, 30, and Martin, 27, who finished third in Calgary,
know they need more than bronze in Salt Lake City to heal what
ails them. Grimmette offers an encouraging prognosis. "We made
mistakes because we were going so fast," he says of last week's
runs. "We know we have the speed."
They knew that four years ago. Before Nagano, U.S. lugers had
never won an Olympic medal, but hopes were high for 1998. Chris
Thorpe and Gordy Sheer had finished atop the '96-97 World Cup
standings, and with five wins in seven races, Grimmette and
Martin were on their way to doing the same in '97-98. "We felt
invincible," says Martin.
Yet he and Grimmette finished behind silver medalists Thorpe and
Sheer and champions Stefan Krausse and Jan Behrendt of Germany.
The Germans and Sheer have retired. Thorpe is struggling with a
new partner. Grimmette and Martin are still together and still
the best U.S. hope.
Grimmette, who began sliding at age 14 in his native Muskegon,
Mich., and Martin, who started, also at 14, as a street luger in
Palo Alto, Calif., paired up on the ice in 1996. Compatibility is
no given in luge. The top slider is the larger man, in this case
Grimmette (6'1", 200 pounds). He lies supine on the smaller
slider--Martin is 5'8", 160--and steers with his feet. The bottom
slider helps guide the sled with leans of his shoulders. A pair
must anticipate turns in sync at 90 mph in races timed to
thousandths of a second.
While trying to establish themselves, the two Americans paid for
expenses with odd jobs. Grimmette built sheds and painted houses.
Martin worked the food cart on a Lake Placid golf course. "I was
an accountant once," he says. "Oh, and I washed dishes."
For years the U.S. lugers were a source of amusement for their
competitors. "Our turn would come," Martin says, "and the
Europeans would line up to watch for crashes." When Grimmette and
Jon Edwards, his partner at the time, earned a World Cup bronze
medal in Germany in the early 1990s, the entire U.S. team went
into a bar and drank beer out of the duo's trophy until the wee
hours. "These days, if we don't make the podium," Grimmette says,
An Inspiring Webb Sight
Freshman in the Running
Last spring, while the track world was proclaiming Reston, Va.,
high school senior Alan Webb the savior of the mile in the U.S.,
Webb's coach at South Lakes High, Scott Raczko, was quietly
assuring people that Webb would be more than a miler. Raczko
talked about Webb's blistering 10-mile training runs and
suggested that Webb could run a two-mile in 8:25 (11 seconds
faster than the national high school record) if he raced at that
distance. "People are going to be surprised," Raczko said.
Consider people surprised. Webb, now an 18-year-old freshman at
Michigan, won his first three cross-country races this fall,
including the Big Ten meet two weeks ago. Last Saturday at the
Great Lakes regional qualifier for NCAA championships, he
finished second behind NCAA favorite Boaz Cheboiywo of Kenya, a
23-year-old junior at Eastern Michigan. Webb chased Cheboiywo for
much of the 10,000-meter race before fading but still beat senior
Luke Watson of Notre Dame and redshirt freshman Matt Tegenkamp of
Wisconsin, two of the best runners in the country.
Among those Webb will face Monday in the NCAAs at Furman is
Colorado freshman Dathan Ritzenhein, who shared
star-of-the-future status with Webb last year while at Rockford
(Mich.) High. Ritzenhein, too, finished second in his qualifier,
behind junior teammate Jorge Torres, and will be in the thick of
the NCAA race. It seems the future has arrived even more swiftly
This One's for You, Coach
Tiny Gymnast Makes It Big
After winning Brazil's first major international gymnastics
medal, a silver in floor exercise, at the world championships in
Ghent, Belgium, two weeks ago, 17-year-old Daniele Hypolito
rushed to the stands, where she fell into a tearful embrace with
her personal coach, Georgette Vidor. It was Vidor who, as
national coach for 15 years, had kept the sport alive in Brazil
despite poor financial support. For Hypolito, however, who also
placed fourth in the all-around, Vidor had done even more--she had
literally been a lifesaver.
In May 1997, during an 11-hour ride from Rio to a meet in
Curitiba, the national team's bus was struck by a truck. Eight
people died in the collision. Vidor, who had traded seats with
Hypolito minutes before the crash to talk to a fellow coach,
suffered a spinal-cord injury that paralyzed her from the waist
down. Hypolito walked away with only bruises. "I felt God saved
my life by having Georgette ask me to change seats," Hypolito
Vidor, now confined to a wheelchair, returned to her club's gym
in Rio three months later only to learn that officials from the
Brazilian gymnastics federation had dropped her as national
coach. "I was a burden on them," she says. "I needed expensive
aid, and I was very outspoken."
Vidor, 43, who will run for regional political office next year,
vows to coach Hypolito, who placed 21st in the all-around at the
Sydney Olympics (at 4'6", she was the Games' smallest
competitor), to Brazil's first Olympic gymnastics medal,
regardless of how the election goes. No political victory is
likely to be as meaningful to her as the embrace in Ghent. Says
Hypolito, "That hug will be in our memories for a lifetime."
KWAN SONG WAY OFF-KEY Forget the triple Salchow. Kwan's signature
maneuver could become the downward career spiral now that she's
dumped coach Frank Carroll, who guided her to four world titles.
At Skate Canada this month, after suffering her first third-place
finish since 1996, Kwan said, "At this point I just have to
believe in myself." With the Salt Lake City Olympics less than
three months off, the breakup--which both Kwan and Carroll say was
based on a difference in skating philosophies--makes no sense. If
Kwan cares to watch a skater peaking at the right time, she need
only note the recent improvement of U.S. men's champ Timothy
Goebel, who is coached by...Carroll.
"INCREDIBLY STUPID" Sweden's Lyudmila Engquist, the 1996 Olympic
champ in the 100-meter hurdles, had taken up bobsledding and
hoped to become the first woman to win gold medals in Winter and
Summer Games. Two weeks ago, however, facing an
out-of-competition test, she fessed up to using steroids.
Engquist, 37, called her decision to use the drugs "incredibly
stupid." She survived breast cancer in '99 and tearfully told SI
during a subsequent track comeback that she feared her previous
steroid use (her first husband admitted to having spiked her
vitamin supplements) might have made her more vulnerable to
cancer. She could still face legal charges in Sweden stemming
from her admission that she smuggled steroids into that country
from Russia last summer.
UP-LIFTING U.S. weightlifting officials felt it was unsafe to
send a team to the world championships in Antalya, Turkey, this
month, but Jackie Berube went anyway. Berube, 29, of Escanaba,
Mich., even raised $3,000 to fund the trip. A former world
wrestling silver medalist who stands only five feet tall, Berube
placed fifth in the 128-pound class in Antalya, but she became a
giant in the Turkish press, which dubbed her American
Braveheart. Meet organizers awarded her a special trophy for
courage and provided her with two female bodyguards, whom she
dubbed Charlie's Angels.