Luge

Erin Hamlin wins World Luge Championships sprint title, eyes 2018 retirement

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In her likely final world luge championships, Erin Hamlin took gold for the second time in her career, eight years after her breakout world title.

Hamlin won the sprint event in Igls, Austria, by .009 of a second over defending champion Martina Kocher of Switzerland, on Friday. The shortened, single-run sprint is not on the Olympic program. The full, two-run race at worlds is Saturday.

“I’m very, very excited that I can kind of prove to myself that I can still compete with the best,” Hamlin said Friday. “To me, the big show is still tomorrow.”

Hamlin became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in Sochi, taking bronze.

She said Friday that she hopes to make the PyeongChang Winter Games, which would be her fourth Olympics, the last competition of her career.

“That’s kind of a thought, yeah,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, you always say you keep an open mind, but I feel like that would be good timing.”

Hamlin earned an upset gold at the 2009 World Championships in Lake Placid, ending a 99-race German win streak in major international competition.

She had some disappointing results in the years following her world title, the first world medal by a U.S. female luger, but has been strong in recent seasons.

She owns two World Cup victories this season and ranks third in the World Cup standings. Hamlin said she’s accomplished more than she could have imagined in the sport and is excited to venture into other opportunities after PyeongChang.

Hamlin has been joined on the World Cup podium in recent seasons by younger teammates Summer Britcher and Emily Sweeney, who may lead the women’s program beyond 2018.

“Definitely feeling a little bit like the old lady around town here,” Hamlin joked. “It’s really fun to be able to see how competitive our team as a whole has gotten, so it pushes me. That’s a huge factor in me still being able to perform at this level, having the young guns keeping me on my toes.”

NBCSN will air world championships coverage Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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U.S. luge, riding World Cup success, eyes end to world champs drought

Erin Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer
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The next three weeks could be crucial for the budding U.S. luge program.

After its best World Cup season in history last year, it goes into this weekend’s world championships in Igls, Austria, seeking to end an eight-year world medal drought. Races start Friday and are streamed live on fil-luge.org. NBCSN will air coverage Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The following week, after another World Cup stop, the world’s best lugers head to PyeongChang to train and compete on the 2018 Olympic track, most for the first time.

There’s reason for optimism for the Americans, still buoyed by Erin Hamlin earning the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medal (a bronze) in Sochi.

Five U.S. lugers combined to capture a program-record 17 individual World Cup medals last season. Only Germany earned more.

This season, the U.S. has taken World Cup medals in every discipline — men’s, women’s and, for the first time since 2010, doubles. Plus, medals in two of the three World Cup team relays, the event that made its Olympic debut in Sochi.

“USA Luge as a whole has built a ton of momentum since 2014,” said Tucker West, a 21-year-old who finished 22nd in Sochi and has two World Cup wins this season. “It all kind of started with Erin’s medal. Everyone’s kind of fed off that.”

Hamlin was the last American to make a world championships podium.

In 2009, she shocked the world by ending Germany’s streak of 99 straight major international race victories and taking gold in Lake Placid.

“A lot has happened since then,” Hamlin said Monday.

Like the rise of a men’s program. Two seasons ago, West became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup race since 1997. Last season, two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer finished third in the World Cup standings.

But Mazdzer hasn’t finished on the podium in nine races this season. He stripped down and plunged into frigid Lake Koenigssee after a 29th-place finish at the German track three weeks ago.

“There was some sort of curse in me, and jumping into the clean water of Lake Koenigssee was somehow going to take all that away,” Mazdzer said. “Wasn’t really thinking, just committed to get into the water. I think it worked. … Hopefully I don’t have to do that again.”

Mazdzer was 13th and fifth in his next two races in Sigulda, Latvia, heading into worlds. He finished fourth in both world championships races last season, the normal event and the shorter, single-run sprint event.

“I wouldn’t say this is necessarily sitting on the back of my mind, like I need redemption,” Mazdzer said. “I think those were pretty good results. For this year, it’s kind of building on the last two weeks for me.”

West may be a stronger medal threat. He is one of two men with multiple wins this season and said he’s had in the neighborhood of a thousand runs on the Igls track.

Track experience is crucial in sliding sports. Of the U.S.’ 25 World Cup medals in singles and doubles the last two seasons, 22 of them have come on North American tracks.

The U.S. missed the Igls World Cup podium each of the last five seasons. The last medal was Hamlin’s bronze in 2010, though Hamlin and Emily Sweeney were second and third after the first run last season before tumbling out of the top five.

Germans dominate Igls. They won all but one of the World Cup men’s, women’s and doubles races at the Austrian track the last three seasons.

Two-time Olympic champion Felix Loch has only made one podium in nine races this season, though, and ranks behind two Russians and an Austrian in the World Cup standings.

Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, winners of the last two Olympic women’s titles, rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the women’s standings, ahead of Hamlin, who hasn’t reached the top five of a European race this season.

German doubles teams have won the last 17 World Cup races dating to last season, split between Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt and Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken.

The best U.S. medal shot could be in the mixed team relay. The U.S. was sixth at the Olympics and fifth at each of the last three worlds, but rank second to the Germans combining three World Cup races this season.

The focus will shift to PyeongChang in February for an international training week and World Cup stop at the Olympic venue. The Winter Games being neither in North America nor Europe, where all of the world’s top sliders are from, makes for “a neutral site,” Mazdzer said.

“Most of the world doesn’t know what it’s going to be like,” said Mazdzer, the only American who has been on the PyeongChang track. “It’s lucky for us, where the home-field advantage [is minimized]. Obviously, the Koreans will have more runs, but it will kind of balance out the rest of the countries and, I think, make it a pretty even Olympics.”

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Erin Hamlin, Emily Sweeney have epic day for U.S. luge

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 12:  Bronze medalist Erin Hamlin of the United States celebrates during the medal ceremony for the Women's Luge Singles on day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Medals Plaza on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — It took Erin Hamlin more than a decade to collect two World Cup luge gold medals.

And then came Saturday, when she won two in a couple of hours.

Hamlin dominated the field to win a pair of women’s events, Emily Sweeney took silver in both of those races and USA Luge had a day unlike any other in its World Cup history. In all, the Americans picked up five medals, including a bronze from Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman in a sprint doubles race.

“It’s very exciting,” Hamlin said. “It was a great race day. We had perfect conditions. I’m very relieved and happy that I could capitalize on that.”

She now has four World Cup wins and 16 medals in singles or sprint events on the circuit — not including her gold from the 2009 world championships or her bronze from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Hamlin started her day with a win in the women’s singles event, the usual two-run format. Hamlin won gold in 1 minute, 29.257 seconds. Sweeney tied her career-best World Cup finish by taking second in 1:29.384, and Alex Gough of Canada was third in 1:29.584.

Natalie Geisenberger of Germany, the reigning Olympic champion, was fourth — one spot ahead of Summer Britcher from the U.S.

That was followed by the sprint events, a one-heat dash in which the clock doesn’t start until sliders have built up some speed at the top of the track. Mortensen and Terdiman placed third in that event, their time of 32.938 seconds beaten by only two German teams — Toni Eggert and Sascha Beneckenwere first in 32.838, and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt were second in 32.893.

“We had a great run,” Terdiman said. “Can’t argue with a bronze medal.”

Hamlin and Sweeney were back on the track soon after, just a couple of hours after finishing up their first competition of the day. They repeated the 1-2 finish, with Hamlin winning in 32.881 seconds, ahead of Sweeney (33.034) and Germany’s Tatjana Huefner (33.040).

Saturday’s medals for Hamlin and Sweeney were the first four won by U.S. women in singles events this season. Britcher captured a bronze in a team relay at Lake Placid last weekend.

“Everything’s starting to pay off,” Sweeney said. “Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going.”

Hamlin’s other World Cup wins were a sprint race at Altenberg, Germany, in February 2015, and a full World Cup last season in Lake Placid. The two wins Saturday vaulted her to No. 3 in the overall World Cup standings for the season.

“Just an awesome day,” Hamlin said.

Sweeney has been dealing with a wrist injury, and she was thrilled with silvers.

“I am so pleasantly surprised,” Sweeney said. “But also, it’s just a relief. I really needed a win for myself. And I didn’t win — but I won in my own mind, so it’s great.”

Dominik Fischnaller of Italy won the men’s sprint Saturday in 28.302 seconds, edging Russia’s Roman Repilov and Germany’s Andi Langenhan.

After this weekend, the luge circuit goes on holiday break before resuming Jan. 5 in Konigssee, Germany.

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