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Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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MORE: U.S. luge head coach steps down due to Parkinson’s

U.S. luge head coach steps down due to Parkinson’s

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Miro Zayonc has stepped down as USA Luge’s head coach, citing the continuing onset of Parkinson’s disease.

He has been in the top role since 2012, helping oversee a major turnaround for the Americans and preparations for next year’s Olympics.

USA Luge has won 29 World Cup medals in the past two seasons, along with three medals at this past season’s world championships.

Zayonc, 56, will be replaced for the coming season by Bill Tavares, who is being promoted to the interim role from his spot as an assistant.

Zayonc will remain with USA Luge as senior adviser to CEO Jim Leahy. He also will work alongside sport program director Mark Grimmette.

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MORE: White Castle sponsors U.S. luge ‘sliders’

White Castle sponsors USA Luge ‘sliders’

White Castle
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White Castle is promoting a different kind of sliders.

The fast-food chain, known for its small, square “slider” hamburgers,” is now a sponsor of USA Luge, whose sliders are eyeing the PyeongChang Olympics in 10 months.

It is now the title sponsor of USA Luge’s off-season recruitment program, the White Castle USA Luge Slider Search.

“At White Castle, a family-owned business for 96 years, we have been serving The Original Slider for nearly a century and pride ourselves on knowing a thing or two about sliders,” said Lynn Blashford, Vice President of Marketing at White Castle, in a press release. “When we discovered that USA Luge was looking for the next generation of sliders, we knew that White Castle could help fuel their efforts and hopefully help them bring home coveted medals for many Winter Games to come.”

More on the two-year partnership is here.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 Olympic daily schedule highlights