After winning an Olympic bronze medal in women’s luge in Sochi, Russia, last February, Erin Hamlin set another goal: Win a FIL World Cup.
As snow fell heavily on her home track at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex, Hamlin came up just short. She finished in a German sandwich between Natalie Geisenberger — the defending Olympic, world and world cup champion — and Tatjana Huefner, the Olympic silver medalist.
Hamlin’s two-run time of 1:28.672 was 0.499 seconds behind Geisenberger but 0.15 ahead of Huefner. The silver medal is a world cup career best for 28-year-old Hamlin. She owns six bronze medals from previous world cups (in singles; she has two silver medals from world cup team relays).
“It’s kind of nice to move up a spot,” said Hamlin. “It would have been nice to capitalize on home ice a little bit better. My runs weren’t perfect. I had a couple mistakes that were kind of a bummer, but what can you do?”
Emily Sweeney, 21, and Summer Britcher, 20, also slid to career bests, finishing in fifth and sixth, respectively.
“Last week (at the Igls World Cup), I had a personal best of seventh,” said Sweeney. “This week moved it up to fifth. So hopefully we can keep that momentum going.”
Britcher’s previous best world cup race was in Park City, Utah, last year when she was trying to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Finishing ninth, she bumped Julia Clukey, who missed making her second U.S. Olympic team by 13 thousandths of a second. Clukey is back racing luge this year and said she will continue as long as she has her family’s support and is still having fun. Clukey finished eighth at the Lake Placid World Cup.
Hamlin was all smiles after the race — the second world cup on the FIL schedule. But she knew that she had let an opportunity slip away. She knows how to win on this track, evidenced by her gold medal from the 2009 FIL World Luge Championships hosted here at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
Even the almost-invincible Geisenberger was nervous before the race.
“We know that Erin can slide here very, very fast,” said the Olympic champion. “I tried to be faster.”
But Hamlin let any hope of a world cup win slip away on her first start when she came off the block a bit sideways. True to her style, she gained speed down the track. But it was not enough to pass Geisenberger.
“The first three curves my first run were pretty terrible, so that wasn’t ideal,” Hamlin said. “But that’s where the comfort factor on this track really came into play. I knew how to get down in many situations, so that was to my benefit.”
In front of Team Hamlin — various friends from her hometown of Remsen, New York, and relatives dressed in red, white and blue onesies and other costumes and waving flags and cheering loudly — she laid down a better second run and stayed ahead of Huefner.
At the finish, Hamlin’s smile was tinged with a bit of disappointment. After the Holidays, the FIL World Cup tour moves to Europe, where the Germans usually dominate.
“It’s still my goal,” she said about winning a world cup. “But this was one of my best chances to do that, so it’s a bummer that I didn’t. But that’s OK.”
“Erin is sliding great,” said USA Luge Sport Programs Director Mark Grimmette. “But her starts have to be more consistent. She’s losing a little bit of time up there. If she improves that, it will definitely help her cause.”
In the afternoon, Hamlin added another world cup bronze medal to her collection in the team relay — although she had a tough run, hitting the wall in the tricky chicane section of the track. Tucker West, with the fastest reaction time between legs, pulled the U.S. team back into the lead, and Jayson Terdiman and Matt Mortensen in doubles held it.
In the relay, each team runs as a unit, with the woman going first, man second, and doubles team third. Each slider hits an overhead paddle on the finish line, which opens the start gate for the next teammate. The cumulative time after the three runs is the team’s overall time.
“Thank goodness I have awesome teammates who pulled through,” Hamlin said. “Tucker had a smoking run that made up all the time that I lost. That’s what makes the relay a team event. Thankfully, they held up the slack that I let go.”
Only the Germans and Italians finished faster, giving USA Luge a bronze in the relay.
“We usually shouldn’t say it, but for this race, yes, sure, I wanted a medal,” said Mortensen. “It’s our home track, and we all are fast in our own respective disciplines. So absolutely that was the goal for this race.”
Hamlin wrapped up the Lake Placid World Cup with two medals. Although neither was gold, she kept smiling. After taking a long break from luge extending from the Sochi Games into the fall, Hamlin came into the 2014-15 season refreshed and with a new mindset. She told herself that she would not dwell on disappointments.
“I’m a little more relaxed with things,” she said. “I’m really excited to slide but not necessarily to beat myself up over every result. I proved that I can compete with the best in the world, and now I can enjoy sliding.”
As for winning the silver instead of gold, Hamlin said, “I’ll take it. Six bronzes medals are enough. I can start adding a couple other colors.”