More from the Irish Igloo
There were pockets of air in the Irish Igloo when I arrived. Those pockets soon disappeared, after The Silver Tongues launched into their set. All I can tell you is, if you've ever been to the Stone Balloon in Newark, Del., on a Friday night, you know what last night was like at the Irish Igloo. Barry Svrluga tells me the same could be said of Bub's in Chapel Hill, N.C.
We ran into several employees of the U.S. ski team. We ran into a coach with the New Zealand ski team, who was familiar with the struggles of the Kiwi Curlers and didn't have much to say about the lack of Kiwi skiers here, and frankly wasn't much interested in discussing the topic. We ran into Mary McVeigh, a former defender for the Philadelphia Charge of the now-defunct WUSA soccer league who is an assistant at Lehigh and an enormous fan of the crossword puzzles available on Washingtonpost.com. We ran into the brother of U.S. luger Tony Benshoof. We ran into the aunt and uncle and fiance of U.S. luger Mark Grimmette. His uncle was a large Midwestern man wearing a wife beater and dancing to a Silver Tongues mix that included "Video Killed the Radio Star," "Twist and Shout" and "La Bamba."
This is where things started getting weird. There were canisters of "Rip It Energy Fuel" powder all over the bar (Rip It sponsors Jeremy Bloom), and we figured journalistic ethics required us to sample the product. The ingredients include citric acid, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate silica, sucralose, natural and artificial flavors, yellow 6 and yellow 5, two of my favorite yellows. There are 200 milligrams of caffeine per canister. The label warns you not to consume more than two canisters a day. I guess you're supposed to put it into beverages. We didn't know that.
Barry went first. "All I know is, that was horrible," he said when he was able to speak again. He later described it as "pop rocks for adults." My take: "Rip It" is the most abominable product ever created, and is hereby dubbed the Official Vile Energy Fuel Powder Stuff of these games. Imagine swimming, with your mouth open, in a lake filled with Fun Dip, while several Pixie Stix are jammed up your nostrils, and you're coming close.
And then, suddenly, we started having long and serious conversations with Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, the most decorated lugers in U.S. history. They've won Olympic silver, and they've won Olympic bronze, and yesterday they crashed out of the two-man competition and won nothing. Mike Wise wrote about it beautifully in today's paper. I tried to make some jokes, but they weren't really laughing.
I'm now writing 100 percent seriously. It was hours after their crash, and they were with friends and family members in a ridiculous Alpine bar, listening to an Italian cover band while drunk kids danced on tables. They talked about how they didn't know whether they would retire, and how much time they had devoted to this sport, and what a brotherhood they felt with other lugers who have done the same thing. They talked about what they'll do next; Grimmette, 35, will get married in August. Martin, 32, said he will eventually go back to school because he loves learning and studying. Geology, maybe. They weren't sure about retirement. They talked about dealing with the crash.
"I'm very disappointed after today, there's no question about that," Grimmette said. "But I'm around my friends and my family, and that's the most important thing at a time like this."
"I haven't wanted to cry so many times in my life as I have today," Martin said. "As much effort as you put into it, four years of your life devoted to this sport....I guess you've got to reflect on the fact that we're sledding. It's not the end of the world....Every kid that grows up gets on a sled and has a fun time going down the hill, right? It's fun to go down a hill on a sled. This is just bigger. It's the ultimate....Yeah, I'm bummed out. I crashed. After 18 years of doing this, you're not supposed to crash....Luge is luge. Nobody pays attention. I do this because it's fun."
The Silver Tongues had stopped playing by now. "Surfin' USA" came on the audio system.
"I listen to the Beach Boys," Martin said, "and think about how much fun it'll be to go surfing."
One of his friends came over to me. "If I talk to you too much, I'll cry," she said. "You want to cry, don't you? Everyone who knows them wants to cry. But they're not hurt. That's the silver lining. He's here. He can talk to you. He's ok. Brian and Mark are the nicest, sweetest, guys on the planet. Both of them: hearts of gold."
Gosh. It was weird and sad and kind of happy in another way, being up in the mountains with crashed-out lugers and their friends and family members. Barry and I left a few minutes later. For the first time since I've been here, it was snowing outside. This was totally different than industrial southern Turin. The ski slopes were shining, and the Alps were everywhere, and I had a beer cozy for something called Rip It Energy Fuel on my wrist and a CD for a band called "The Silver Tongues" in my bag. Plus a piece of Bra cheese.
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