- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia | Back in 1984, Mark Grimmette was startled to find bulldozers ripping into the side of his favorite sledding hill.

Turns out, a luge track was being built. Grimmette went out and helped the crew finish the job.

That was the first step along a path that would bring him to five Olympics as a doubles luge competitor, plus the honor of being the U.S. flagbearer for Friday night’s opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games.

“The term ‘elder statesman’ came up a lot,” the 39-year-old Grimmette said Thursday, when describing the voting process for the flagbearer role. “I just hope it wasn’t ‘elderly’ they were saying.”

It’ll be the second time Grimmette, of Muskegon, Mich., and Lake Placid, N.Y., plays a starring role in an opening ceremony. He was one of eight the U.S. athletes selected to carry a tattered flag pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center into the Salt Lake City Olympics, five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Grimmette has spent most of his career with Brian Martin, teaming with him to win bronze at the Nagano Games in 1998 and silver at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. They needed to beat another American sled in a race-off just to secure a spot in the field for the Vancouver Games.

Now, that’s forgotten. On Friday night, he’ll lead the entire U.S. contingent into the ceremony.

“I was very surprised,” he said.

He can thank U.S. luge teammates Tony Benshoof and Bengt Walden for that. It was their idea to nominate Grimmette for the flagbearer role.

“We were sitting around talking about what we were going to do and we didn’t think of nominating anyone, and then last minute, Bengt and I thought, ‘Well, what the hell, let’s nominate Mark.’ He’s great, five-time Olympian, two-time medalist,” Benshoof said. “And it worked. He got in.”

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