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U.S. Wins Its First Luge Medals

The medal drought is over for the U.S. luge team.

After 34 years of Olympic failure, the doubles teams of Gordy Sheer and Chris Thorpe, and Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, each won medals Friday. Thorpe and Sheer got silver, and Grimmette and Martin took bronze behind the winning duo of Stefan Krausse and Jan Behrendt of Germany.

It was the closest doubles race in Olympic history.

The winners finished the two runs in 1 minute, 41.105 seconds for the gold. Thorpe and Sheer, who had faltered all during the World Cup season, had a time of 1:41.127. Martin and Grimmette, the reigning World Cup champions, were third in 1:41.217.

It's the first time the United States has won a medal in luge since it was added to the Winter Olympics in 1964. The previous best finish by the team was a fourth in doubles at Lillehammer, by Grimmette and his former teammate, Jon Edwards.

"Well, we broke the barrier," Sheer said. "I guess it's now up to everyone else who comes after us to live up to our performance and one-up us and get the gold medal. That's someone else's job next time."

With a boost from the team's new theme song, "Arctic Evel Knievels" written by Mojo Nixon and recorded right before the Olympics, the two U.S. tandems managed to set aside any jitters they may have felt with so much at stake.

After failing to medal in singles earlier in the week, all U.S. hopes were pinned on them, and they came through.

It was a three-sled race for the gold after the first run, and the Germans put their experience to use. They had the fastest first run, 50.592 seconds, and followed that with the quickest run of the day down the 14-turn Spiral course.

In doing so, Krausse and Behrendt added a second gold to their collection six years after they won their first in Albertville. They also won silver at Calgary a decade ago and bronze at Lillehammer in 1994.

Like Georg Hackl did in winning singles, the Germans somehow found time at the bottom where no one else could. And when both U.S. teams went ahead of them on the final run, turning in nearly flawless runs, the Germans were undaunted.

In the Olympics, one little mistake usually means a loss. It was difficult to pinpoint a difference between the top three teams.

It was an impressive run for both U.S. teams, especially Thorpe and Sheer, who had fallen on hard times.

Fifth at Lillehammer, they burst to the top of luge doubles, winning the World Cup title in 1996-97, then hit the skids. They hadn't won a race since December 1996 and were searching for answers. It didn't help matters any that Thorpe, 27, of Marquette, Mich., broke a bone in his right wrist last month while training in Utah.

Most teams are silent at the start, concentrating fully at the prospect of hurtling down an icy chute tucked together on their backs at speeds approaching 80 mph.

Not Thorpe and Sheer, of Croton, N.Y. They constantly banter before they go, and Friday was no exception.

Bronze wasnt so bad for the other American duo, who had to pay their own way to their first World Cup race in December 1996. Grimmette, of Muskegon, Mich., and Martin, of Palo Alto, Calif., entered the race having won four of six World Cup races this season and they had the best training times of the week.

The Schiegl cousins of Austria Tobias and Markus were fourth, while defending Olympic gold medalists Kurt Brugger and Wilfried Huber of Italy were fifth, more than a half-second behind the winners.

Written by John Kekis AP Sports Writer
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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