Luge worlds on U.S. track for first time in 22 years

Updated: February 17, 2005, 11:21 PM ET
Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah -- U.S. lugers Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin will end an inconsistent season on one of their favorite tracks.

And winning could make 2004-05 a highlight in their careers or a disappointment.

Grimmette and Martin are the top U.S. medal hopefuls at this weekend's Luge World Championships, which are being held on a U.S. track for the first time in 22 years.

"Hopefully we'll get some home crowd support," Martin said. "We really enjoy being here, sliding on this track and know it very well. You combine all those things and it's pretty nice."

Grimmette and Martin won the doubles silver medal three years ago on the Utah Olympic Park track and won a World Cup race here last season. They will compete in the doubles competition Friday, hoping to erase the disappointment of a fourth-place finish in the overall World Cup standings.

"We've had some great races this year and we've had some really frustrating races," Grimmette said. "The important thing that we knew all season long is that we were fast. We knew that we had the speed. It was more a question of being consistent, putting down two good runs."

It isn't often that U.S. lugers get to race in front of a home crowd. And this weekend, they'll do it in the second-biggest event in the sport. The United States hasn't hosted the World Championships since they were held at Lake Placid in 1983.

The upstate New York track and Utah Olympic Park are the only U.S. world class venues for the sport that is largely foreign to Americans but has been catching on lately with more U.S. success. Calgary, Canada, is the only other track in North America.

The U.S. team hasn't won a world title since Wendel Suckow's victory in the 1993 World Championships at Calgary. An American has never won Olympic gold in the sport, something Grimmette and Martin will try to change next winter at the Torino Olympics.

Martin and Grimmette have won the World Cup overall doubles championships three times, the 2002 Olympic silver and the bronze in 1998's Nagano games. But they've never done better than bronze in the World Championships. They got their third world bronze of their career last year in Nagano.

They won a World Cup race at Calgary in December, but their finishes ranged from third to 12th the rest of the season.

"It seemed like we would train well and then something would happen in the race. A couple bright spots, but a couple not-so-great ones," Martin said. "A win this weekend would pull it all out and certainly make it a great season."

The Championships open Friday afternoon with the doubles, followed by the women's singles races. American Ashley Hayden got her first World Cup medal at Winterburg, Germany, on Jan. 22, but would have to pull a huge upset to medal again Friday, when the Germans are expected to dominate again.

German women have swept the World Championship medals since 1999 and have won 56 consecutive World Cup races. Barbara Niedernhuber beat German teammates Silke Kraushaar and Sylke Otto, who set the Park City track record while winning the gold in 2002, in the World Cup standings.

Russia's Albert Demtschenko will try cap his World Cup overall title Saturday in the men's singles on the 1,316-meter track. The competition wraps up Sunday with the team competition.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press