Olympics

A Swedish luge star about to get his US stripes

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LAKE PLACID, New York (AP)

Bengt Walden is entering his third year as a member of the U.S. luge team and it's certain to be unlike either of the others.

Red, white and blue are set to be his true colors. Walden will soon be an American.

Born in Sweden and married to American luger Ashley Hayden Walden, Walden will have his naturalization ceremony next Thursday in Boston, turn in his permanent resident card and vow to "bear true faith and allegiance" to the United States.

He'll soon get his first U.S. passport, then turn all of his attention toward representing America at the Vancouver Olympics this winter.

"It's a lot of pressure off me," said Walden, who passed his citizenship test on Wednesday. "It was very difficult. The time was getting short, we were very happy to get in for an interview and with the timing, I didn't have any room for error. So I studied hard, nailed the test, the interview went very well and I'm very relieved."

Walden spent nearly two decades racing for Sweden, met the American who would eventually become his wife around 2001, and his life wasn't the same again. Obtaining permanent residency status after the wedding - a green card, as it's commonly known - allowed Walden to race for the United States.

But to compete in the Olympics under the U.S. flag, Walden needed to become a citizen.

And with the international sliding season fast approaching - on-ice training is already under way at USA Luge's home base in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York - the Waldens didn't need a drawn-out, arduous process to take away from their Olympic preparations.

"It seemed like it worked out all too well to be true," said Ashley Walden, who was eighth in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. "We're just, really, fingers crossed until Thursday, then we'll be able to sit down and have a sigh of relief."

Bengt Walden said one of the reasons why he pursued American citizenship was a lack of support plaguing the fledgling Swedish luge program. He's certainly proud of his heritage, owns a business in Stockholm and will still be known around the U.S. luge camp as "the Swede."

The results just weren't what he wanted; he was 23rd for Sweden at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

In 2008, Walden was USA Luge's national champion, and clearly, being around a deeper team with tons of talent - Tony Benshoof was fourth in the 2006 Turin Games, Erin Hamlin is the reigning women's world champion - is paying off.

"It's always one of the bigger Olympic teams," he said. "People take sports very seriously in this country and it's cool to be part of that."

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