20 years ago, the U.S. won its first Olympic luge medal


Gordy Sheer admits that he was the butt of a lot of jokes as he prepared to compete in doubles luge at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

He received snide comments from the European powerhouses, since U.S. athletes had failed to earn any medals in the sport, which made its Olympic debut in 1964. He heard seemingly every joke about doubles luge, which is often mocked because competitors race on their backs—in skin-tight uniforms—with the driver directly atop his partner.

But Sheer got the last laugh, claiming the first U.S. Olympic luge medal, a silver with partner Chris Thorpe.

“It was nice to finally get it,” said Sheer, who is now USA Luge’s Marketing Director, in a phone interview. “It was a result that was built on the backs of an entire organization and all of the sliders who came before us.”

Compatriots Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin earned bronze, clocking a total time that was just .09 seconds slower. At the time, Sheer lived in a house with Grimmette and Martin.

“The four of us trained together, so we were always pushing each other,” Sheer said. “That was the icing on the cake to have three of your best friends there.”

The success of the U.S. luge athletes in Nagano changed perceptions about the program. The Fort Meyers News-Press ran a headline that read “U.S. no longer luge loser,” while The New York Times printed “Americans end luge futility with two medals.” Sheer even appeared in a segment with David Letterman’s mother on “The Late Show.”

“It helped us answer the ‘What is luge’ question,” Sheer said.

Four years later, the U.S. again won the silver and bronze medals in doubles luge. But it was not until 2014 that Erin Hamlin became the first U.S. athlete to claim an Olympic singles luge medal by earning bronze in Sochi.

“It was a big, big boost for us,” said Sheer, pointing out that USA Luge’s athlete recruitment statistics skyrocketed in 2014.

Now, as USA Luge’s Marketing Director, Sheer is tasked with generating enough revenue to put U.S. athletes in the position to compete for the country’s first Olympic luge gold medal.

“It is the last hurdle,” he said. “We really need to cross that to get to the next level. Olympic gold is the ultimate goal for an organization like ours.”

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