WHISTLER, British Columbia – The Opening Ceremony at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games will be held two months from tonight, and so far USA Luge Team members Chris Mazdzer, after a World Cup silver medal Friday night, and Erin Hamlin are verified as part of the 10-member unit that will represent the United States.
Hamlin’s fifth place performance Saturday night, on the 2010 Olympic track that was a source of much frustration four years ago, secures her nomination. She came off the course and pumped her fists in celebration, the culmination of a goal that she discussed a few weeks ago.
“It’s really nice to get it out of the way,” said Hamlin. “It’s a big relief than going to the wire and then potentially racing off. So I feel a lot better and I can enjoy Salt Lake a little bit more.”
That was a reference to next week’s fifth World Cup stop on the 2002 Olympic track, followed by the formal announcement of the USA Luge Olympic contingent on Dec. 14.
In the team relay, USA Luge took fourth place a week after claiming a World Cup silver medal in the event that will make its Olympic debut in February.
“I’m excited (to get the top five),” Hamlin continued. “I’ve been so close so many times this season. It was nice to finally come through and pull it off.”
Tucker West and Kate Hansen are another two team members that are inching closer to Sochi. Both satisfied a selection criteria this weekend. West did so last night, while Hansen finished right behind Hamlin in sixth place. “I’m gonna cry,” she stated from the leader’s box.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. I was nervous about this race. I had a rough week in training so I’m grateful I put down two clean runs. That’s been a recurring theme this entire season. It’s something new. I’m not used to it. It’s a new feeling. Every week I call it a Christmas miracle because I still can’t believe it.”
West and Hansen are among the U.S. racers using the new Norton/Dow/US Steel/Clarkson collaboration in technology.
“With the hard ice this week, I could feel the Dow kufens (runners) react,” Hansen added. “I think they perform really well on this ice. It’s a great partnership that we have. They have led to a lot of successes so far and we’re not even half way through the season.”
All four Americans finished in the top 15 on Whistler’s short, but very fast course. Julia Clukey, a 2010 Olympian from Augusta, Maine, was 10th, and Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., 15th. A top nine effort for either in next week’s World Cup event in Park City, Utah satisfies a Sochi selection criteria. The potential exists, however, for a race-off on Dec. 14 to decide unresolved Sochi nominations in all disciplines. Each nation may enter three sleds each in men’s and women’s singles and two doubles teams at the Sanki Sliding Centre in Krasnaya Polyana.
The women’s singles race saw World Cup leader Natalie Geisenberger win her fourth straight World Cup singles race. She has the tour lead with a perfect 400 World Cup points.
The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist had the best runs of the night. She was timed in 36.720 and 36.692 seconds for a two-heat total of 1 minute, 13.412 seconds.
Canadian Alex Gough, who collected silver in both the singles and later in the team relay, was next in 1:13.545. Anke Wischnewski also of Germany, held down the bronze medal time of 1:13.622.
Defending Olympic champion, Tatyana Huefner, raced through back problems early in the season. She finished fourth, just 0.02 of a second from the podium.
Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., had the fifth best runs of each heat on another cold night at Whistler-Blackcomb. The 2009 World Champion’s aggregate time was 1:13.803. Hansen was sixth in 1:13.851. Clukey took 10th in 1:14.001 and Britcher 15th in 1:14.173.
Geisenberger’s overall World Cup lead is 400-261 over Gough. Huefner is in third with 260 points. Hamlin, with all four results between fifth and eighth places, is fifth with 197 points; Hansen is tied for ninth at 146; Clukey 13th with 120; and Britcher is tied for 19th with 89 points.
Germany rebounded after last week’s uncharacteristic debacle in the team relay by defeating Canada by 0.4 of a second. The stacked German deck had all of their weekend race winners, namely Geisenberger, Felix Loch and the doubles sled of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Their combined time was 2:03.791. Canada clocked 2:04.202, with Austria third in 2:04.686, followed by the American quartet of Hamlin, Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. and the doubles unit of Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City. They registered a time of 2:04.769.
The World Cup tour leaves Sunday for Park City, the final stop Sochi qualifying procedure. Doubles and women’s singles will compete on Friday, with men’s singles and the team relay on Saturday.
USA Luge will announce its Olympic nominees in a gala event Dec. 14 in the Utah Olympic Park museum. The event will be streamed live on www.usaluge.org.