Bay Area athletes going for the gold in Vancouver 

San Francisco may have lost its bid for the 2016 Summer Games, but that doesn’t mean the Olympic dream is dead. On the contrary — a small but determined bunch of Bay Area athletes will be vying for victories in Vancouver in a few short weeks. The Examiner profiles a handful of medal hopefuls.

Brian Martin

Not many Olympians can say they’ve been competing in their sports so long that they’ve seen it evolve.

But that’s a claim that luge champ and Palo Alto native Brian Martin, who will compete in his fourth Olympic games this year, can make.

The sled he and his longtime luge partner, Mark Grimmette, will slide down the ice course with is radically different from the sled he started sliding on the better part of two decades ago.

“The sport has changed a lot — but it is only very slow change,” he said. “When I started, the luge was a much different shape.”

The piece of steel Martin, the rear driver, lies in is much less bowed than it was 15 years ago. The sled has incrementally become more aerodynamic. The system’s suspension mechanisms have gone through several iterations.

Martin has even helped shape this evolution, since he has served as an athletes representative on the International Luge Federation’s Technical Commission, which helps form the technical portion of the rules by which the sport is played.

While the technology has evolved, the motive to compete in luge has not changed for Martin.

“There’s no other thrill like the bottom of that track when you’re doing 85, 88 mph,” he said. “When you’re moving at that kind of speed, it’s just exciting no matter what you’re doing.”

While most people on the U.S. luge team are younger than the 35-year-old Martin, his partner, Grimmette, is three years his senior — and has one extra Olympics under his belt.

They were both coy when asked whether they expect to continue racing after this year’s games.

“We’ve always got the philosophy that there’s no point in worrying about retiring until you’re done with the race,” Martin said.

“If you’re concentrating on what you’re going to do after the race, you’re probably not concentrating enough on what you’re doing.”

Brian Martin bio

Sport: Doubles luge, back driver
Born: Palo Alto
Current residence: Palo Alto
Height, weight: 5-foot-8, 160 pounds
Age: 36
Olympic experience: 2006 (did not finish), silver medalist in 2002, bronze medalist in 1998
Career highlights: USA Luge’s all-time leader in international medals won (65), including Olympic, World Championship, World Cup and Challenge Cup medals.
Fun fact: Favorite food is chips and salsa

Dan Joye

Dan Joye was already competing in singles luge when a coach sized him up one day and announced he should be in doubles.
Joye’s diminutive size — barely 5-foot-7 and just over 150 pounds — means he has the textbook, aerodynamic build for a rear driver of a sled.

Doubles luge is among the fastest of all sports in the Olympics. Two sliders lay face-up on a narrow sled, one stacked on top of the other, and whiz down a circuitous ice course at speeds pushing 90 mph.

After a swift start down the track, in which both sliders push off the ice with spiked gloves, the rear driver, ideally compact but very strong, lays down flat on the bottom and back of the luge and makes small adjustments using his shoulders to steer the sled down the course. The much larger front driver, who helps steer with his feet, lays on a seat on top. For the Olympics, Joye will be sliding with 30-year-old Christian Niccum. Both participated in the 2006 Turin Games, but with different partners.

Joye’s athletic career slid slightly off track at the beginning of last year, when his wife had a baby two months before the due date.

The baby was born by emergency cesarean section on Jan. 5, 2008, and weighed just 1 pound, 13 ounces. Joye and Niccum were in the midst of the World Cup in Germany, but the surprise early arrival of Joye’s son and his subsequent medical needs meant the pair had to skip some of the Cup races. The pair has consistently placed in the top 10 of Olympic tune-up events.

Both mother and son are doing well now, and Joye has spent recent months traveling around the world to various training and qualifying events. He admitted it has been difficult to be far away from family, but he said he has their support in his pursuit of an Olympic medal.

“It’s been very tough for me,” he said. “Having a family now is very new to me ... and obviously I want to be home. ... [But] I’m trying to win the gold here.”

Dan Joye bio

Sport: Doubles luge, back driver
Born: San Tomé, Venezuela
Current residence: San Jose
Height, weight: 5-foot-7, 154 pounds
Age: 24
Olympic experience: 2006
Career highlights: Won two Junior World Cup doubles titles in 2002 and 2003, participated in the 2007 and 2008 World Cups
Fun fact: Was licensed as a paraglider at age 13

Kelly Marren

The story that will be told throughout the Olympics about Kelly Marren is how, at age 10, she sat her parents down and gave them a PowerPoint presentation on why they should allow her to learn how to snowboard.

Reticent as they were — uncomfortable with the rebellious attitude of the snowboarding scene — they couldn’t really say no to that.

But the really telling story about Marren, now 18, is what happened next. After spending a season or two learning to snowboard, she enrolled in an amateur contest in the Lake Tahoe area for fun. Out of three girls, she finished second. Instead of taking it for the middling record it was, she took it as a sign she was meant to be a lifelong snowboarder.

“I thought that I was amazing — just that confidence of doing well in a local competition helped me focus. I said, ‘Wow, I’m good at this!’ even though at the time I really wasn’t,” she said.

The next year, she made it a goal to win that contest, and she did — and qualified to the national competition. Out of 30 contestants of her age group, she finished about 25th.

But yet again, she didn’t take it as a defeat. She went home, convinced her parents to hire her a new coach and practiced.
And sure enough, the next year, she won nationals.

What happened after that was a blur of sponsorship, world traveling for competition and year-round practice. Marren is now a freshman at Stanford, but took two of her fall-quarter finals early so she could fly to the Olympic trials in Colorado. Entering this weekend, Marren was still trying to qualify for Team USA.

She said she is thrilled to be on the same team as some of the best snowboarders in the world, at a time when the women’s sport is really starting to shine.

“The amount that women have improved even since the last Olympics is amazing,” she said. “It’s great to be a part of this and to get pushed that way. I’m really lucky.”

Kelly Marren bio

Sport: Snowboarding
Hometown: Hillsborough
Current residence: Palo Alto
Height: 5-foot-3
Age: 18
Olympic experience: None
Career highlights: World junior champion
Fun fact: Parents built her a home in Lake Tahoe so she could spend winters training there

Joe Pavelski

This will be Sharks center Joe Pavelski’s first trip to the Olympics, and all of his teammates are happy for him — but not all of them will be cheering his team on.

In fact, Pavelski will be one of six Sharks heading to compete in Vancouver. Half of those players — including superstar forward Joe Thornton — will be playing for Canada, a team that has the advantages and pressures of being the games’ home team. Evgeni Nabokov, one of the best goalies in the NHL, will be playing for Russia, and defenseman Douglas Murray will be playing for Sweden.

One would think that with four Olympic teams represented in a single locker room, the banter would be flying. But Pavelski said things have stayed relatively civil — for now.

“Maybe when it gets closer,” he said.

Pavelski, 25, grew up in Wisconsin and competed at the University of Wisconsin before being drafted by the Sharks. The transplant has since called San Jose home and has grown increasingly Californian, despite his Midwest roots.

“There’s definitely part of me that loves the area,” he said.

West Coast hockey has historically suffered a poor reputation among Canadian, Midwest and East Coast fans, who consider California hockey to be on the same level as the traditional hotspots. But that reputation has slowly changed, as more children have picked up hockey sticks and the West Coast has started growing some of its own talent, Pavelski said.

He said having so many Sharks in the Olympics could nudge West Coast hockey’s reputation for the better.

“I think it speaks highly of the Sharks that we have so many guys going,” he said. “[The reputation has] slowly started to grow. I think more people understand what the West Coast is more about now.”

Asked whether the team is likely to play less aggressively against their Sharks teammates for fear of injuring each other and messing up their chances at the Stanley Cup, Pavelski was unequivocal.

“We’re playing to win — that’s why we’re going there. There’s no other reason to play,” he said. “It’s one of the highest honors you could have.”

Joe Pavelski bio

Sport: Hockey
Hometown: Stevens Point, Wis.
Current residence: San Jose
Height: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds
Age: 25
Olympic experience: None
Career highlights: Played for the University of Wisconsin through 2006. Played 82 games for the Sharks in the 2007-08 season, scoring 19 goals, and 80 games in the 2008-09 season, scoring 25 goals.
Fun fact: Assisted on both goals in Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory over Boston College in the 2006 NCAA championship game

Vancouver Games facts

- When: Feb. 12-28
- Athletes: 5,500 representing about 100 countries
- Sports: 86
- Media: More than 10,000 individuals
- Tickets: 1.8 million
- Volunteers: 2,500
- Cost to put games on: $1.3 billion
- TV revenue: Networks including NBC are paying $680 million
- TV viewers: 3 billion worldwide

Winter Olympics numbers

280: Medals won by Norway, most of any country in history
216: Medals won by the U.S., second-most in history
98: Gold medals won by Norway, most of any country
78: Gold medals won by U.S., tied with Russia for second-most
34: Medals won by U.S. at 2002 Salt Lake Games, second to Germany’s 36
8: Gold medals won by Norway cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie, most in history
6: Medals won by U.S. at 1988 Calgary Games, tied for eighth (Russia had most with 29)
5: Medals won by short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno and speedskater Eric Heiden, the most by an American in history

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