(L-R) Silver medalist Julia Clukey of the United States, gold medalist Natalie Geisenberger of Germany and bronze medalist Alex Gough of Canada celebrate at the FIL Luge World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 8, 2013.
|Julia Clukey fans traveled from Maine to cheer their hometown
hero to silver.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — There really is no place like home. Just ask Julia Clukey. The 27-year-old luger took full advantage of her home track and won her first World Cup medal, a silver. It was the best World Cup finish for USA Luge this season.
“I know this track in and out, so I was really focused on my position on the sled and knew that regardless if I was a little too far to the left or too far to the right, I knew how to correct my lines in the curves,” she said as snow fell hard on the track at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. “I just wanted to capitalize on my home track advantage, and I was super excited I was able to do that today.”
Clukey, from Augusta, Maine, finished her two runs in 1:28.735 behind winner and reigning world champion Natalie Geisenberger from Germany, who clocked 1:28.440. Alex Gough from Canada rounded out the podium in 1:28.748.
The silver medal was a perfect antidote to Clukey’s world championship experience in Whistler, Canada, on the 2010 Olympic track last week, where a virus slowed her down. She finished ninth. And it was a silver lining to the long recovery she has endured after undergoing surgery in March 2011 to correct Arnold Chiari Syndrome, a genetic disorder in which fluid doesn’t leave her brain properly. It causes muscle weakness, headaches, and vertigo, among other symptoms. Clukey was diagnosed with the syndrome after the 2010 Olympics, and the recovery from surgery, she said, involved mostly rest, which was difficult for a motivated athlete.
Having two North Americans on the World Cup podium was unusual in a sport often dominated by the Germans. This was the first time this season that fewer than two German women have been on the World Cup podium. And it was the first time this season that four Americans have finished in the top 10 (the Germans only had Geisenberger in the top 10).
“The Germans have a very strong luge program and they’ve certainly dominated this year,” added Clukey. “So second is a pretty special place for me.”
Erin Hamlin, 26, who won the world championships on the Lake Placid track in 2009, finished a disappointing fifth.
“How my runs were, I have to be happy with my place because I had some big problems especially my second run,” she said. “I clipped a wall in the chicane. Usually I’m pretty dialed through there.”
|World Cup silver medalist Julia Clukey celebrates with her nephew
But that didn’t stop Team Hamlin from cheering loudly at the finish and waving American flags. Over 121 people from Hamlin’s hometown of Remsen, N.Y., boarded a bus this morning to travel to Lake Placid. Hamlin’s extended family also made the snowy drive, including her brother, who has made a name for himself by cheering shirtless in the stands with his sister’s name painted on his chest — well, at least one letter of her name. Other family members have the other letters painted on their chests (the rest of the family is no doubt happy that Erin’s name only has four letters).
“They started during the Olympics in Torino, and now it’s kind of expected,” said Hamlin with a smile. “They’re going to have to suffer now through the end of my career in the cold.”
Team Sween also punctuated the crowd with their neon green hats. They were there to cheer on reigning junior world champion Emily Sweeney, 19, who finished ninth.
“This is the first time I’ve ever raced anyone except for my teammates on this track,” Sweeney said. “So it was cool to have everyone, all the other countries here. Our support system was amazing, between Erin and I, we had our families here.”
A former junior world champion, 20-year-old Kate Hansen was just behind Hamlin in sixth.
“It was so awesome having a home field advantage, especially the Sween Team, and there are so many Hamlins!” Hansen said. “It’s cool to come up the in-run and know people love you because in Germany there’s no love ever. It’s just nice to see the flag waving and hear your name being chanted.”
In doubles luge, Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall finished sixth with Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk in eighth — season’s best results for both teams.
Next week the sliders travel to Sochi, Russia, for the first race on the 2014 Olympic track and the last World Cup of the 2012-13 season.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.