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Luge: Grimmette-Martin advance to fourth Olympics

Knowing their Olympic future and quite possibly their sliding career were at stake, longtime USA Luge doubles partners Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin decided Wednesday was the right time to make a slight strategic change.

"Before, we were sliding like idiots," Martin said. "And today, we actually slid like we knew what we were doing."

With that, they're off to the Vancouver Games, with a chance at making luge history.

Grimmette and Martin defeated Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall at a race-off in Lillehammer, Norway, on Wednesday to secure their fourth Olympic trip together. Olympic bronze medalists in 1998 and silver medalists at Salt Lake City in 2002, they'll have a chance in February to become the first doubles team to medal in three different decades.

"I do have a good feeling about where we need to go from here," Grimmette said. "We've still got the month of January before the Olympics, so we're going to have to work hard."

Grimmette and Martin had a two-run time of 1 minute, 36.989 seconds. The Mortensen-Griffall time was 1:37.344.

Also heading to the Olympics is Megan Sweeney, who survived a race-off to grab the final women's singles spot on the U.S. team by downing her younger sister Emily Sweeney and Kate Hansen.

"It's definitely a very interesting thing to walk into, knowing that it is so big and at the same time it's really hard because you're racing against your teammates," Megan Sweeney said. "And I didn't only race my teammates, I raced my sister. That right in itself was something that was super hard."

Grimmette — who'll soon become a five-time Olympian, having made his debut at Lillehammer in 1994 — and Martin had the fastest time in all three runs. The race-off format called for only the two fastest runs to count toward the total time.

If they hadn't won Wednesday, their Olympic hopes would have been over. And given how this season has gone, it could have easily been the end of their careers as well.

"It's a relief that today is over, but it's a beginning too," Martin said. "We still have work to do and the goal isn't to make the Olympic team. It's to do well at the Olympics."

They have won 65 international medals together, the first of those coming in a World Cup race at Lillehammer in 1996, and there was some thick irony in the fact their career essentially could have ended Wednesday at that same track.

"It crossed my mind," Grimmette acknowledged.

When the race-off was in the books, Grimmette and Martin sounded disappointed for Mortensen and Griffall. "Interteam races are tough," Grimmette said. "We're friends with everybody. We're close most of the time."

For the Sweeney sisters, the dynamic was even tougher to handle.

Megan Sweeney is 22, six years older than Emily Sweeney, and they arrived at the Lillehammer track on a frosty, snowy day knowing at least one would have their Olympic hopes shattered.

Big sister took command over little sister from the outset. Megan Sweeney had the faster time in all three runs, finishing in 1:38.003, 0.165 seconds faster than Emily Sweeney.

When it was over, the sisters embraced. Emily Sweeney was smiling. Megan Sweeney couldn't hold back her tears.

"We didn't say anything," Megan Sweeney said. "We just hugged."

Hansen, 17, finished in 1:38.578.

It's the first Olympics for Megan Sweeney, although she's had plenty of success in international events. She won gold and silver medals in karate at the 1998 Junior Olympics, and when Wednesday's race was over, she sounded more relieved than anything else.

"It was very nerve-racking," Megan Sweeney said. "I had good training all week but I've been getting in my own way. I just tried to have three good runs. In the past, I would get into my own head. You have to be prepared and confident. I knew it was possible, but I knew it would be a fight."

The full Olympic team will be formally unveiled in New York on Friday, although all 10 nominees are now known.

World champion Erin Hamlin, along with Julia Clukey and Megan Sweeney will be on the women's singles roster. Grimmette and Martin will join Christian Niccum and Dan Joye in doubles, and the men's roster — set last weekend — includes Tony Benshoof, Bengt Walden and Chris Mazdzer.

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