Erin Hamlin made American history at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia by capturing the nation’s first ever Winter Games medal in singles luge. The native New Yorker’s bronze-worthy finish came during her third stint as an Olympian and a whopping five years after she ended a 99-race win streak by German athletes to take the 2009 World Championship title. With Sochi in the rear view, Hamlin is back in the states and actively working with the Citi Kids program, which opened its sixth season on April 24.
The Citi Kids program, which provides educational and motivational support to middle and high school students living in New York City, was founded in 2009 as a joint venture between Citi, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Mets, and United Neighborhood Houses. The 2014 season will focus on the importance of financial responsibility via Citi’s Teach Children to Save Initiative.
Hamlin, 27, first connected with Citi during the months leading up to the Winter Games as part of the Every Step Program. The effort helped Hamlin and eight other elite athletes raise money for and awareness of grass roots sports programs that are dear to their hearts.
Hamlin was on-hand for the April 24 Citi Kids kick-off event at Citi Field, which saw her share her story of hard work and triumph with a group of middle school students from New York’s School of Integrated Learning before tossing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Mets’ game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Afterward, Examiner caught up with the talented luger for an exclusive interview.
How did you come to be involved with Citi?
Hamlin: I worked with Team Citi leading up to the Games…. Coming here to do the Citi Kids program is a great opportunity. As an elite athlete it’s amazing to have the opportunity to connect with kids and have that platform to try and make a difference.
Let’s talk about luge. It’s not exactly a mainstream sport, so how did you discover it?
Hamlin: I actually got into the sport through the [USA Luge] Slider Search, which is the program that I actually supported with the [Every Step] campaign which is pretty cool, because it kind of came full-circle. It’s basically like an open-call try-out. They have a small ramp and sleds with wheels on them and they kind of send kids down a hill and teach them how to steer and really the bare basics of the sport. Kids who show potential get called into the development program.
Boiled down to a few words, how does it feel to slide down the track?
Hamlin: It takes finesse, but you kind of want to be on the edge of out of control. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush. It’s hard to put it into only a couple of words. People like to compare it to going down a roller coaster, but the biggest difference is I’m in control. I have to be the one making sure I’m not on my face.
The bronze medal you won in Sochi bought you a permanent place in America’s history books. Who inspired you to be your best?
Hamlin: Honestly, I have a great support system from my family and my community at home, and they’ve been there whether or not I’ve won a medal so that’s always really encouraging for me to try to bring success home. I did that and it’s so satisfying. But at the same time, I also grew up watching the Olympics and hearing the stories of the athletes and seeing those moments of success at the Olympics and I always thought ‘that’s so cool.’ They’re just average Americans, normal people, and they chased these dreams and achieved greatness, and that was super inspiring for me. I was like ‘I want one of those moments at the Olympics.’ And finally getting it is pretty surreal. Seeing other Olympics and seeing them overcome whatever they had to overcome to succeed is very inspiring to me.
What’s your earliest Olympic memory?
Hamlin: I loved figure skating, so I always watched figure skating, like Nancy Kerrigan and then Kristi Yamaguchi…. I [also] did gymnastics when I was little so I was always glued to it. I remember being little and starting gymnastics and always wanting that perfect 10 and hearing the Nadia Comaneci, the Mary Lou Retton stories, the big names. And then in 1996, I was 10 years old watching our team just dominate and it was so, so cool to see girls who were American with all these great stories. I think those were my biggest Olympic moments for sure.
Those are great ones! What was the first thought you had when you realized you’d medaled in Sochi?
Hamlin: When I came on the line, I knew before I even finished that I had gotten it, because I knew much time I had in the bank. I knew I just really needed to make it down. I got through kind of a tough spot but I knew I just needed to cruise to the finish. I made it down and I was just thinking ‘oh my gosh, did that really just happen?’ I just laughed, because I went into this race with zero expectation, I put no pressure on myself. It was my third Games and I didn’t know if I’d ever be back to the Olympics, so I really just wanted to enjoy it. And I was able to do that. I felt zero pressure, I was never nervous. I think it was the most enjoyable race I’ve ever been a part of, and because of that, because I wasn’t over-trying, I got to the finish and I was like ‘wow, maybe I should’ve tried this a long time ago.’
Do you have any big projects in the works or goals in mind? Is Pyeongchang on your radar?
Hamlin: It’s definitely on the radar, but I’m not committing to another four years and I’m definitely not saying no. I’m definitely back next year for sure, and then I think it’ll be kind of a year to year assessment to see if I’m still healthy, if I’m still competitive. I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to sticking it out, so I’ll have to see what life looks like, what’s going on. It’s kind of up in the air.
Back in January, I asked Meryl Davis and Charlie White if they’d do “Dancing with the Stars,” and now they’re actually competing, so I’ll ask you: would you ever consider doing that show or any reality show if they wanted you?
Hamlin: I definitely would, actually. I’ve been asked about the “Dancing with the Stars” one. I don’t know how far I would get, but I think it would be fun and entertaining for the country because I’m not the most graceful person in the world. I also think “Amazing Race” would be really entertaining. I feel like I’m pretty travel-savvy. Either that or it could be a disaster because I’d find out I’m really not.
I like the finish up my interviews with a fast five, which are five quick, relatively painless questions designed to give fans a few little-known details about your life.
Favorite lip care?
Hamlin: I don’t go very far without ChapStick or Blistex. I have to put one in the pocket of every pair of my snow pants.
The last book you read?
Hamlin: “The Monuments Men.”
Hamlin: I really want an old school Volkswagen Beetle convertible. That’d be, like, prime. Or a hard top with a safari rack on top, that’d be really fun. Or an Audi Q7.
Best vacation spot?
Hamlin: Kauai, for sure. I really love Hanalei. It’s low-key, it’s quiet, it’s chill, laid back.
Hamlin: It was funny, last year my mom and I watched the entire Masters because Adam Scott won and it was pretty fantastic to watch him play golf. So I think he is my newest celebrity crush. But other than that, it’s always tough to answer that because I feel like I won’t think of anyone and then I’ll watch something or see a movie and think ‘oh gosh, that’s definitely it.’ But we’ll start with Adam Scott the golfer.