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Erin Hamlin’s medal was ‘big boost’ for Team USA luge

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Tucker West admits that his teammates were “shocked” when fellow U.S. luger Erin Hamlin claimed the bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics.

Understandable, considering Hamlin failed to make a podium in either of the two World Cup seasons leading up to the Sochi Games. Not to mention that no U.S. athlete had ever won an Olympic singles luge medal in the 50 years since the sport made its Olympic debut.

“It gave the team a morale boost,” West said. “It showed that our equipment is fast and can compete with the rest of the world.”

Hamlin immediately recognized the significance of her achievement. When she finished her final run, she ran over to the stands and bowed in front of the loud contingent of U.S. fans.

NBCOlympics.com: Hamlin on what it means to be U.S. flag bearer (video)

“Hopefully, it means [the sport] gets a little more attention and we get some funding and spread the numbers and get a lot more kids involved going forward,” Hamlin said at the time. “And we just get stronger.”

Hamlin’s wish came true. Gordy Sheer, a 1998 Olympic doubles silver medalist and USA Luge’s Marketing Director, said that the organization’s athlete recruitment statistics “skyrocketed” in 2014.

“It was a big, big boost for us,” Sheer said.

The U.S. has achieved unprecedented success on the international circuit since then.

In December 2014, Tucker West became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup race since 1997. It started a streak of U.S. men winning multiple World Cup races in each of the three seasons since the 2014 Olympics.

Hamlin won three medals at the 2017 World Championships, the most by a U.S. luger at Worlds in a single year. She was one of three U.S. women to finish in the top-10 of the 2016-2017 World Cup standings.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch Hamlin’s run for bronze in 2014

“Erin’s medal really sparked the rest of our success since then,” West said. “It’s snowballed from there.”

Hamlin will be 31 during the PyeongChang Winter Games, which she has said will be the final competition of her career. She is a medal threat after finishing second at the 2017 World Championships.

“She is a great racer, especially in stressful situations,” West said. “She seems to do well in all of the big races.”

WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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