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News | Feb. 13, 2014

Soldiers skid to 14th place in Olympic luge doubles

By Gary Sheftick and Tim Hipps

SOCHI, Russia (Army News Service, Feb. 12, 2014) -- Team USA's Sgt. Preston Griffall and Sgt. Matt Mortensen finished 14th in Olympic luge doubles after skidding in turn five of their second run at the Sanki Sliding Center Wednesday night.

"The second run was quite the wild ride," Griffall said. "There were a lot of problems. This track rewards perfection. We did not have perfection. Four years of hard work, and it's just devastating."

Their shot at a top-10 finish, much less a position on the podium, was lost in Turn 5.

"Five is a really tricky curve and a lot of people have been having problems there this week," said Griffall, adding that, ironically, the pair from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program didn't have any problems on that turn during training earlier in the week.

"On the second run, we just held onto the end of five a little bit too long, and got a little pressure to the right, got pushed over, just barely nicked the right wall, and it was just enough to make us break out and start skidding," he said. "And after you lose grip on the ice and start skidding, it's pretty close to impossible to stop the skidding. We turned over and hit the left lower wall and up into [turn] six. After that, we were just so far off line that it was hard to get it back.

"We just had a lot of problems after that."

Mortensen and Griffall had a time of 51.066 seconds on their second run, a bit slower than the 50.637 clocking of their first run down the 1,500-meter course that features 17 curves and a 125.5-meter vertical drop. During their first run, the U.S. Army duo sped the sled at 81.7 miles per hour.

In luge doubles, one athlete lays in contact with the sled and the other directly on top of the first. Visibility is minimal for the athlete on the bottom who must do much of the steering by shifting body weight, the two lugers explained earlier this week at a press conference. Trust is essential, they stressed.

Mortensen said the teamwork he learned in the Army, along with communication skills, helped him in luge. It's been especially beneficial in doubles, he said, because teammates must work together as one.

With the sled racing down the hill faster than 80 miles per hour, there's little room for mistakes and no time for talking, even if words could be heard, Mortensen said. Communication must be made by "subtle body movements," such as a tilt of the head, to indicate that a curve is coming up.

On the first run, Griffall said the top section of the course went decently, but down low there was way too much pressure in turn 14, and the team "had too much height."

"We went too deep into 15," Griffall said. "We weren't able to catch the line and get it back in control and head out of there."

Griffall said he was disappointed the second run cost him and Mortensen a chance to compete Feb. 13 in the inaugural Olympic team relay -- a combination of men's and women's singles, anchored by a doubles team -- for a cumulative time against other nations.

USA's other doubles team of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman finished 11th with a time 1:40:945 to earn Team USA's doubles spot on the team relay.

"Unless there's some kind of act of God, I'm probably done with this sport," said Griffall, who added that Mortensen likely will continue competing for another shot at the Olympics.

Griffall said he'd love to keep competing in some type of athletics.

A former personal trainer, Griffall said he may resume that occupation. He also plans to return to college. He said resilience and bouncing back is important not only in sports, but life in general.

"Hopefully, I can go home and inspire some athletes -- if not in luge, athletics in general."
Griffall said he and Mortensen are Soldiers first, and athletes second. He said if the Army needs him for other missions, he's ready to answer the call.

On teammate Erin Hamlin winning a bronze medal in Olympic women's singles one night earlier, Griffall said, "I'm so excited. Luge is not a very popular sport in America... This could possibly be a huge lift for our sport."

His father, uncle and friends were here watching him in Sochi -- a group of eight, all told.

Griffall, 29, a member of the Utah National Guard, is on active duty with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. Mortensen, 28, is a member of WCAP and the New York National Guard.

Germany won the gold medal in luge doubles with a combined time of 1:38.933 for the two runs. Austria (1:39.455) took the silver and Latvia (1:39.790) claimed the bronze.