KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It was not the ending Preston Griffall envisioned when he set his 2010 heartbreak aside and dedicated another four years of his life to luge.
“This track rewards perfection, and perfection is not what we had for sure,” said the Olympus High graduate who finished 14th in his second Olympic competition in doubles luge. “Obviously, I’m grateful for this opportunity, and Matt and I worked hard for it. But it’s pretty hard to swallow when it’s been eight years of work and you kind of blow it in the race.”
Emotion was evident at times, especially when he talked about his father, brother and six other family members making the trip to Russia to see him compete in what is likely his final Olympic competition.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better support group to come all the way out here,” he said. “I told them they didn’t have to. I mean, it’s expensive and it’s a long way out here. They refused to listen to me, and I am excited to have them here. It is pretty disappointing to have such a crappy performance in front of them.”
Griffall and his partner, Matt Mortensen, struggled in both runs Wednesday night.
“Our second run was quite the wild ride,” Griffall said. “It was a pretty bad run. We had a lot of problems and we were basically off line from the start.”
The track in Sochi has two uphill sections, a feature found only in the Russian track and the Nagano track. It means mistakes are harder to recover from and time is difficult to find without flawless driving.
Despite their difficult first run, Griffall said they had high hopes for their second trip.
“It’s a two-run race and anything can happen,” he said. “You have to try and really focus. Maybe if you put down a good second run, you’ll have the opportunity to move up.”
The podium was packed with brothers. The German duo of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, who failed to qualify for the 2010 team, took the gold with the largest margin of victory in Olympic doubles history with 1:38.933. Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger, gold medalists at the last two Olympics, took silver in 1:39.455. Another pair of brothers, Andris and Juris Sics of Latvia, took bronze in 1:39.790. Griffall’s final competitive luge race came on the anniversary of the death of Georgia Olympian Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died on the first day of the Vancouver Olympics at the track in Whistler.
The IOC held a moment of reflection before Wednesday’s competition and flowers were laid at the track in Whistler where the 21-year-old died just hours before the opening ceremony. There are also plans to build a permanent memorial in Georgia, according to IOC communications director Mark Adams.
Griffall competed in the 2006 Olympics, but missed the 2010 Games by the narrowest of margins. He didn’t know the young luger or see the tragedy, but he said all of the sliding world remembers him and wishes more could have been done to prevent his death.
“It’s something people will never forget,” he said. “It’s something you could have never predicted. Some things happen that are out of the hands of everyone.” Another layer of disappointment for Griffall is that finishing behind their teammates means Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman will join newly crowned bronze medalist Erin Hamlin and Chris Mazdzer in the luge team event on Thursday night. Niccum and Terdiman finished 11th and also struggled with the uphill sections.
Still, Griffall said he’s learned a lot from his time in luge — especially about how to overcome disappointment.
“Life in general, not just in sports, it’s a roller coaster of emotions,” he said. “You have to learn how to deal with it. There are always going to be ups and there’s always going to be downs. For sure, I’ve learned the way you pick yourself up is what’s going to make the difference. And it’s what makes the difference between the people who really make it in life and who are able to accomplish great things and those people who let it kind of slip by.”
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