ALTENBERG, Germany – Sochi Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 World Champion Erin Hamlin finally clutched the elusive World Cup luge gold medal Sunday in Altenberg, Germany, turning back the challenge of three German stalwarts to win the one-heat Sprint World Cup event.
“I had really good training (this week), so I was hopefully going to have decent race runs,’ said Hamlin, who set the track record in Nations Cup qualifying on Friday. “There was nothing specific that I did. The track (here) is always the same. It was in great shape even with the warmer weather we had. It was nice to have decent ice. I got comfortable really fast, after the first or second run. I started to have consistent training. Things just kind of fell together pretty quickly which makes it nice so you’re not cramming to figure your lines out at the last minute.”
With the personal achievement of her first career victory came a team highlight as USA Luge now has 13 World Cup medals this year. It ties the single season high set in 1996-1997.
This gold medal was the luge gods making amends as the three-time Olympian, earlier in the day, missed a bronze medal by an agonizing 0.009 of a second. How does one measure that? One can’t.
In an aberration only found in the closest of sports, Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., was fourth despite having the third fastest runs of both heats. Only a brilliant final attempt uncorked by Olympic gold and silver medalist Tatyana Huefner of Germany kept Hamlin off that podium.
Different from the traditional discipline races, where the clock starts just below the start handles, the sprint format enables the racers to build maximum speed for 330 feet (100 meters) before time starts running.
A strong pull from the handles and a precise line over the beginning of the course to the timing beam is required to generate the most momentum before the clock begins.
Hamlin’s Sprint World Cup time of 37.751 seconds topped Germany’s Dajana Eitberger, who recorded 37.896. Teammate Natalie Geisenberger, who earlier won the women’s singles race and clinched her third overall World Cup title, placed third in 37.901. Geisenberger, Olympic gold and bronze medalist, has eight wins in 11 starts.
With an infusion of 160 World Cup points on Sunday over the two events, Hamlin is now in fifth place on the season. She has a gold medal and two silver medals to date in individual competitions.
Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. stood fifth at the mid-point of the singles competition, but settled for ninth place, while Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa. took 10th. Hamlin’s teammates came back in the Sprint event with Sweeney 10th and Britcher 15th.
The United States sent no men into the Sprint race as Tucker West finished outside the singles top 15 and Chris Mazdzer crashed in the final heat as he was approaching the podium.
The men’s Sprint was won by triple Olympic gold medalist and overall World Cup champion Felix Loch, with Sam Edney of Canada second and Inars Livlenieks of Latvia third.
Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. stayed in the Sprint doubles leader’s box, stoked as they withstood a handful of sleds before eventually placing sixth. The first-year team is sixth in the overall World Cup rankings.
The Sprint doubles race, as has been the case in the discipline events all season, has been a German affair with Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken trading wins with 2014 Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
The Sprint went to the former sled Sunday in a closely contest race as the top three were separated by only 0.05 of a second. However, this time the Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics, Olympic silver and bronze medal winners, wedged themselves between the Germans.
Eggert and Benecken registered a time of 27.790, with Team Sics next at 27.817 and Wendl and Arlt third at 27.843.
The season-long World Cup doubles chase will come down to the tour finale in Sochi next weekend. Eggert and Benecken, with six wins in 11 races, have 1,025 points. Wendl and Arlt, the recently crowned World Champions, are second at 955. The Latvians have 679 points.
All other 2014-2015 discipline championships have been clinched with Geisenberger and Loch taking the singles crowns and Germany securing the team relay.
USA Luge now departs for the Russian Riviera, returning to the site of last February’s Olympic Winter Games. The Americans will bring a smaller contingent to Sochi, with Hamlin, Mazdzer, West, Mortensen and Terdiman in action Feb. 28 – March 1.
Doubles and women race Saturday starting at 1:45 AM ET, with men and the team relay on Sunday commencing at 2 AM ET.
Live timing can be found at www.fil-luge.org