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Erin Hamlin wins second World Luge Championships medal in two days

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IGLS, Austria — German luger Tatjana Huefner won the women’s singles race at the world championships on Saturday for her fifth career individual gold medal and first in five years.

Leading after the first run, Huefner posted the second-fastest time in the final run to beat Erin Hamlin of the United States by 0.213 seconds and Kimberley McRae of Canada by 0.240. Hamlin had won the gold medal in Friday’s sprint event.

Olympic and defending world champion Natalie Geisenberger was only 17th before setting a track record of 39.822 seconds in the final run to finish sixth, 0.294 behind her German teammate.

Huefner has won eight medals at world championships and three at Olympics, including gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Later Saturday, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken led a German sweep of the podium in the men’s doubles.

Eggert and Benecken posted a track record of 39.468 seconds in the first run and held on to their lead to beat Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt by 0.206 and Robin Geueke and David Gamm by 0.385.

Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler were the best non-German finishers in fourth.

It was the first world title for Eggert and Benecken, who had won silver three times before. They have won seven of nine races in the luge World Cup season.

The worlds conclude with the men’s singles race and a team relay on Sunday.

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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