- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

PARK CITY, Utah Even Chris Thorpe was amazed.

He wasn't surprised that U.S. teammates Brian Martin and Mark Grimmette won silver yesterday in luge doubles or that Germans Patric Leitner and Alexander Resch won gold. He was astonished that he and Clay Ives took the bronze.

"It's crazy to me," Thorpe said. "This is my 32nd international medal and only Clay's second. To be able to get on the podium at the Olympic Games with a two-year team, I still can't believe it."

Thorpe is only the second slider to win Olympic medals with different partners. He won silver at Nagano with Gordie Sheer and missed by .004 of a second of becoming the first to win two silvers in doubles.

Competing in his fourth and final Olympics, Thorpe said he felt like a rookie.

"I've never been so nervous in my life," he said. "I don't think I can be more nervous."

Maybe it was the crowd of 15,000, many of them screaming and waving American flags against the deep blue Utah sky.

"On the first run, the crowd gave us a big cheer and then settled down and were quiet so we could focus," Thorpe said. "On the second run, it was just chaos. In 17 years of sliding I've never felt such emotion on a sled. It felt like we were going to break apart into pieces."

Instead, the breakdown happened at the finish line when Thorpe's wife, Kriste, eight months pregnant, gave him a hug.

"She was crying," the 31-year-old Thorpe said. "She said she was proud of me. That was real special to have her there."

The Americans, who finished 2-3 for the second straight Olympics, were nearly a match for Leitner and Resch, and in doubles anything is possible. In their first three years of sliding together, the German duo won two world championships but also crashed 50 times.

They felt the pressure, too.

"We were under a lot, but before the competition, I didn't think gold," Leitner said. "I just treated it like the last run of the season, concentrated and brought it down."

Grimmette, of Muskegon, Mich., and Martin, of Palo Alto, Calif., seemed destined for their second straight bronze but had the fastest second run among the 17 sleds that finished the race two crashed and were disqualified and edged their teammates.

"Having the experience of Nagano helped us to tune out the crowd and concentrate," Martin said. "They've got something to write home about now."

It was a sweet moment, too, for Ives, who also is retiring. He quit the Canadian Olympic team because of a lack of funding after Nagano and hooked up with Thorpe after Sheer retired in 2000.

The two had struggled mightily, and Thorpe never quite found the chemistry he had shared with Sheer. The only other time Ives had stood on a podium was in the World Cup finale at Winterberg three weeks ago, when he and Thorpe took silver.

"It feels great. I feel proud to be an American athlete," said Ives, who grew up in Bancroft, Ontario, and has dual citizenship. "Thank God the U.S. took a chance on me. I can't express how happy I am to be here and win a medal for the United States."

Leitner and Resch carried on the rich legacy of the German luge team. Since luge was added to the Winter Olympics in 1964, the Germans have won nine of the 11 doubles gold medals. But the Americans have at least made a dent.

"It's continued success," said Sheer, who is still involved with the team and was there cheering at the end. "It shows that [1998] wasn't a fluke."

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