Work in Sports
First to strike gold
U.S. lugers Martin, Grimmette win men's doubles
Posted: Friday February 18, 2000 10:20 PM
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) -- At long last, the U.S. Luge team again has a home-ice advantage. Sort of. Plagued for nearly a decade by a decaying track, which the best lugers in the world avoided like the plague, the U.S. team christened the brand new bobsled-luge-skeleton track at Mount Van Hoevenberg with a victory in men's doubles on Thursday.
Brian Martin of Palo Alto, Calif., and Mark Grimmette of Muskegon, Mich., won the first gold medal of the inaugural Winter Goodwill Games, and by the closest of margins -- five thousandths of a second over Steffen Skel and Steffen Woeller of Germany.
The American duo, who won Olympic bronze at Nagano in 1998, built a big lead on the first run, then nearly lost it all on the second, finishing with a combined time of 1 minute, 37.823 seconds.
"I was definitely nervous," Martin said. "Going down I was thinking I hadn't heard anybody's times. I was thinking, well, if we're lucky other people have screwed up as much as we have. It was far from a good run, and we were a bit lucky that we held onto it."
Normally, a lead of nearly a half-second is safe in luge, but with only nine practice runs on a brand new track that's unlike any other in the world, there were plenty of chances to make mistakes. During the uphill portion of the second run out of turn 14, Grimmette put his feet down and it nearly cost them the race.
"This track is tough," Grimmette said. "We had roughly a four-tenths lead after the first run, and I knew that wasn't a whole lot of time. We don't have a whole lot of experience on this track yet. You really can't call this track a home track yet. Hopefully, in the future we'll be able to say that."
The other American team of Gordy Sheer of Lake Placid, and Chris Thorpe of Marquette, Mich., who won silver at Nagano, finished a disappointing fourth. A mishap on their first run -- also in the uphill section -- cost them a spot on the podium.
"The sled just broke away over that rise," Thorpe said. "I totally didn't expect it. I thought we were right on line. It broke away and it was all over. If we had had that problem in training, we would have been ready for it in the race. It's just a lesson learned."
"That was our race," added Sheer, who had other worries on this day -- his band was to play at the awards presentation later. "That was our medal out the window."
The downhill gold medal apparently went out the window for the favored Austrians in the draw as Vincent Blanc of France scored a surprising victory at Whiteface Mountain under crystal-clear skies and frigid temperatures.
The 26-year-old Blanc, who failed to finish both World Cup super-G races last weekend at St. Anton, Austria, finished in 1 minute, 49.84 seconds to edge Chris Puckett of Boulder, Colo., by 12 hundredths of a second. Canada's Kevin Wert won the bronze.
The five Austrians in the race had had their pick of starting slots and chose to go first in the wake of Monday's snowstorm, which dumped 2 feet on the mountain and softened conditions.
But swirling wind and overnight temperatures near zero hardened the course and may have cost the Austrians the race. Hannes Trinkl, who won a World Cup downhill in Canada in December, was fifth; Werner Franz, who won one of last week's super-Gs, was seventh; and Fritz Strobl, who won the world's toughest downhill, the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuhel, Austria, last month, was 11th.
Puckett, the last skier on the course, said his experience on the mountain was a factor.
"When we went to bed last night and saw it was still snowing. It seemed like it was going to be difficult to have a race today, especially with the race being pushed back to 2:30," said Puckett, who has cracked the top 20 only twice this World Cup season. "But I was totally ready, having skied this pitch a few times.
"I think some of the Europeans may have been a little intimidated just because they haven't skied the hill much," Puckett said. "We definitely ski some more challenging courses in Europe sometimes, but if you haven't skied the hill before, you're still going to be intimidated once you get in the gates and race. I felt a lot more comfortable maybe than some of the other guys."
In snowboarding, Tricia Byrnes and Kelly Clark won the two top spots in halfpipe for the United States, which led the medal count with six, two of each color, at day's end. Canada and Italy had two medals each.
"I was just glad I pulled it together," said Byrnes, the defending World Cup champ. "Practice was really rough for me this morning. I haven't been able to do a 540 because I'm chicken. Then I just landed a couple in practice and thought, 'You can do this.'"
In short track speedskating, Canada's Francois-Louis Tremblay edged Italy's Fabio Carta in the 500-meter sprint. American Rusty Smith finished third despite falling.
In the women's race, China's Yang Yang took gold in the 1,000 meters, with Evgenia Randanova of Bulgaria second and Amy Peterson of Maplewood, Minn., third.
"I really didn't skate the final the way I would have liked," Peterson said. "I just waited too long. Instead of skating my race, I skated their race, but I'm definitely happy with the way it turned out. It gave me a big confidence boost going into the world championships next month."
And after one run in women's luge, Germany's Sylke Otto led teammate Silke Kraushaar by two-tenths of a second. Angelika Neuner of Austria was in third heading into Friday's final run.
Figure skating got under way in the evening at the Olympic Ice Arena. After the technical program in pairs, Germany's Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer, bronze medalists at Nagano, led the three teams competing with a score of 98.3.
Just behind in second at 98.0 was the Russian team of Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev, who won gold at Nagano. Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, two-time Olympic bronze medalists, were in third with a score of 96.7.
The U.S. pairs team of Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen withdrew after he fell and broke his right cheekbone while attempting a triple twist in practice earlier Thursday.
In dance, Americans Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow were awarded a pair of perfect 10s in the technical portion and were in first place with a score of 98.8.
"It's a surprise because we were so nervous coming in," Punsalan said. "We've been doing shows and trying to get ready for this, so we've been living with this stress daily."
In second place at 98.3 were Maia Usova and Evgeny Platov of Russia, third at 98 was the Russian team of Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, and Finland's Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko were fourth at 96.7.
The old guys stole the show in the men's singles. Thirty-six-year-old Brian Boitano of the United States finished the evening with a flourish, landing one double jump and five triples to take the lead with a score of 98.7, which included two perfect 10s for artistry.
Canada's Brian Orser also skated a nearly flawless program, including his first triple axel in a dozen years, and was second at 98.4.
"I had so much adrenaline after the axel," said the 38-year-old Orser, Olympic champion in 1992 at Albertville. "I don't even think I was breathing. I was going strictly on adrenaline."
Victor Petrenko of the Ukraine was in third at 97.8, followed by France's Philippe Candeloro, Alexei Urmanov of Russia, and Rudy Galindo of the United States.