At 90 m.p.h., it’s hard to predict what will happen next. So luge athlete Mark Grimmette, who won America’s first-ever Olympic medal in men’s doubles, wasn’t sure if he’d even be in Vancouver – let alone as flag-bearer.
At the 2006 Games, he and teammate Brian Martin had a rough go of it and considered giving up the sport. After all, the 35-year-old had been to four Olympic Games and won two medals. And it wasn’t exactly lucrative: a win on the World Cup brings in just $3,000 for a doubles athlete.
“It came down to a love of the sport,” says Grimmette. “When I retire, I know that I’ll retire. There aren’t going to be any comebacks.”
'The right guy'
Nominated by his peers, Grimmette will carry the flag in the opening ceremonies tonight in Vancouver. It's an honor shared by fellow lugers Cameron Myler in 1994 and Frank Masley a decade before that.
To those who know him, the steady teddy bear of a guy with an affection for Star Wars books and a penchant for woodworking, was the obvious choice – and not just because he's one of a handful of five-time Olympians in the US.
“He’s the right guy,” says Olympic silver medalist Gordy Sheer, who as Grimmette’s former teammate appreciated his calm presence amid the “road stress” that would build during five months of traveling together. “He’s the consummate Olympian.”
He’s also the consummate barbeque chef, it turns out.
Every summer, USA Luge plays a big part in sponsoring a three-day barbeque competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., to benefit a local youth center. To comply with the rules for the sanctioned event, Grimmette took part in a special course by the Kansas City Barbeque Society – the head hanchos of the barbeque world.
“He took a six-hour course, ate five pounds of meat, and took an oath,” says Sheer. “Someone had to do it.”
Falling in love with luge
At 14, Grimmette says he wasn’t planning on spending the next quarter of a century traveling the world to compete in luge competitions.
It all started when he heard some heavy machinery across the road from his house in Michigan where he grew up. A curious kid, he went over to inquire about the commotion.
The answer came back: We’re building a luge track.
With an affection for construction, and a long resume of building forts as a kid, Grimmette picked up a hammer and helped out.
“When it was done, I gave it a try and immediately fell in love with it,” recalls Grimmette.
Today, he’s continued his love of construction with a woodworking business to supplement the modest revenues luge brings in. A member of the USA Luge executive committee, he built CEO Ron Rossi a screened-in porch recently.
“It’s still up – he hasn’t complained,” says Grimmette, with typical understatement. But perhaps the fact that he keeps his medals in the sock drawer of his dresser, which he also built, says something about how much he prizes his work.
The task of filling the extra space in that drawer with another medal is still a few days away. Today, Grimmette’s savoring an even more unique opportunity.
“I’ve dreamed about being in the Olympics when I was younger, and after being in the Olympics, I’ve dreamed of carrying the flag,” he says. “But with the amount of people who are on this Olympic team, I didn’t think I had a chance. It’s a great honor.”