February 11, 2014 in Sports

Erin Hamlin huge in luge

Stacy St. Clair Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Erin Hamlin of the United States greets her coach after finishing her final run to win the bronze medal during the women’s singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Tuesday in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
(Full-size photo)

SOCHI, Russia – American luger Erin Hamlin knew heading into the third-to-last turn Tuesday that she belonged to history.

She had slid beautifully over the past two days at the Sanki Sliding Center, amassed a comfortable time cushion during her three previous runs and executed her fourth one well enough that no one could bump her from the medal stand. She just needed to lie back and enjoy the ride.

Hamlin crossed the finish line seconds later, assuring herself the bronze and becoming the first American to win an Olympic medal in a singles luge event.

“It’s surreal,” the 27-year-slider said of her third-place finish. “I came here with no expectations and this is beyond what I imagined.”

It, indeed, seemed an unimaginable ending for a three-time Olympian who could still feel the sting of her last Winter Games. Favored to win a medal in Vancouver four years ago, Hamlin finished a devastating 16th after the start gates were lowered to the junior level because of last-minute safety concerns.

“I didn’t want that to become my legacy,” she said.

Currently ranked sixth in the world, Hamlin did not reach the podium in any World Cup race this season. She openly doubted her chances here, as well, telling reporters last week that her best shot at winning an Olympic medal had been four years ago.

Her position, however, evolved quickly after finding a feel for the Russian track in training sessions. When she looked at practice times and compared them with her top competitors, she said she began to believe in her own possibilities.

“I started thinking, ‘Hmmm, maybe I can do this.’ I felt better than I anticipated,” she said. “At the same time, I just really wanted to enjoy it and have fun.”

Hamlin finished 1.37 behind Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, who maintained her country’s dominance in the sliding sport. Tatjana Huefner, who won gold in Vancouver four years ago, finished second.

Americans Kate Hansen and Summer Britcher finished 10th and 15th respectively.

Hansen, 21, fought back tears as she watched Hamlin clinch the historic bronze. The younger slider – who has benefited from Hamlin’s guidance – immediately understood what the medal meant for both her teammate and her federation.

“This is a huge deal,” Hansen said. “She is one of the hardest-working athletes I know and this is so well-deserved for her. It’s been a long time coming and I’m just stoked that she could bring it back home.”

Hamlin said she, too, hopes her medal will raise the profile of the U.S. luge program, which long has been considered the poor sister to the European dynasties because of its inferior funding and obscure existence.

Germany, for example, has now won the event five times in a row, the longest active winning streak in any sport at the Olympic Winter Games. The United States had not won a luge medal in any discipline since 2002.

“Luge isn’t the biggest sport at home,” Hamlin said. “Hopefully this gives it a boost.”

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus