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US luge vet battles herniated disks

PARK CITY, Utah — Tony Benshoof chose to endure the pain in his lower back rather than get another needle in his spine.

The American slider will be competing with three herniated disks in his lower back in the Olympic luge. He had two epidural cortisone injections to manage the pain during the World Cup season and decided against getting another this week. The treatment does relieve pain, but can't be used too often.

He's been dealing with back pain for years. What's another 10 days?

"It's got its days, but right now it's holding up. That's all I can say," Benshoof said Thursday at Utah Olympic Park, where he and the rest of the U.S. lugers are fine-tuning their sleds before heading to Vancouver next week.

Men's singles luge opens a week from Saturday. Until then, Benshoof says he will just try to deal with the pain with stretching and strengthening his core muscles and taking anti-inflammatory medication.

"I'm really conservative during training, then I give it hell in the start and cross my fingers," said Benshoof, who is headed to his third Olympics.

Benshoof is in his 21st season with USA Luge and his fourth-place finish at the Turin Games in 2006 was the best by a U.S. singles slider at an Olympics. At 34 years old with a bad back, he's not expecting another chance.

"I'm getting old and my back is failing. There's no question about it. It will likely be my last (Olympics), but never say never," Benshoof said. "I don't think it's going to change my perspective but I'm definitely going to do my best to enjoy it and see everything I can and have as much fun as possible."

The pain started with one bad disk in his lower back late in 2009. Surgery seemed to fix it, but only temporarily.

"Since then I've kind of gone through the gauntlet. Life was great, then the other two (disks) herniated," he said. "It's got its days, but right now it's holding up. That's all I can say."

He had an epidural in late November, then another a month later. A third dose of the powerful steroids to his spine in three months sounded risky enough that he changed his mind this week and decided to gut out the pain.

One thing Benshoof likes about his chances is that the track at Whistler has a steep start, which should put less strain on his back. After that, the G-forces of hurtling down the icy track and using his feet to steer through the twists and turns will still be excruciating.

But if Benshoof can survive four good runs and get a medal, back pain won't seem nearly as bad.

"You put so much work into it and even with my injuries I'm still one of the top sliders in the world. That's encouraging," he said. "I've kind of been able to learn how to time it right with the combination of rest and anti-inflammatories."