In Her Own Words: Erin Hamlin On Qualifying For Fourth And Final Olympics

By Erin Hamlin, Olympic Bronze Medalist And Three-Time Olympian | Dec. 06, 2017, 3:14 p.m. (ET)

Post-second run in Winterberg, after keeping my spot and realizing my Olympic qualification

 

Erin Hamlin has served as the face of luge in the United States for almost a decade. The three-time Olympian is the most decorated U.S. singles slider in history, having first won world championship gold in 2009 before winning three medals at the 2017 event – gold in sprint, silver in singles and team relay. In 2014, Hamlin earned bronze at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 to become the first U.S. singles luger ever to earn an Olympic medal. Follow Hamlin’s journey to a fourth Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, as she writes for TeamUSA.org.

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I am officially qualified for my fourth Olympics. That is insane to type. Starting this sport 18 years ago the Olympic team was such a pipe dream, something to fantasize about and say “maybe someday.” It offered motivation, a reason to sacrifice countless things while growing up (for myself and my family), as well as justification for such brutal moments I put my body through over the years. Money, energy and emotions all spent, whether readily available or not, to reach the pinnacle of representing the USA.

Accomplishing it for a fourth time is just as exhilarating, inspiring and relieving as the first. All have been so very different, both in stress levels and experiences, but I am thankful to have had the guidance and direction over the years to approach every quad the same. What I’ve been doing has to be at least a little right…so keep doing that, keep doing you and focus on what you can control.

My dedicated team of “funkschway” (a luge mom/fan adaptation of the more commonly known “feng shui”) experts on a typical Friday of a race weekend

I feel so fortunate to have another opportunity to wear what I imagine will be the coolest outfit (at least the most patriotic) of them all into the Opening Ceremony and lay it all on the line in what will be my last international race. It has been a unique and fulfilling experience over the years watching our sport and program grow. To that I give immense credit for making this team. Having the next generation nipping at my heels and, very often running right by me, I know that without the friendly competition I could not have stayed at the top of my game for this long.

Whether it was the thought of it being my last hurrah or the strength and momentum the women’s program has gained over the last quad, the task of qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team definitely brought more stress and anxiety than the previous three.

I didn’t realize this until the first world cup of this season when it was within my grasp and quickly fell away as I smashed into walls down the start ramp in Igls, Austria a couple of weeks ago. It happened again in Winterberg, Germany, a week later as I sat in a qualifying position for the second week in a row…not the smashing part (although it was a close one) but the unavoidable thoughts of having that coveted A-tier qualification right at the tips of my spiked fingers.

If you aren’t an avid follower of luge, our races consist of two runs, the combined time establishing your final result. We are timed to the thousandth of a second…the teeniest of tiny margins that can mean you lose a race (or Olympic spot) by, quite literally, a few hairs. In this particular situation the top 10 of the field were within half a second and the time difference from first to last (24 places) was just over 1.5 seconds. This meant my mission of keeping my spot was one tiny mistake away from falling out of my grasp yet again.

Winterberg World Cup awards ceremony

Athletes are mentally tough; we train for moments like this every day, have top-notch support systems sending all the fastest vibes from afar, and work with sports psychologists when needed in order to better handle high-stress situations. But when it comes down to it, the task of turning everything off is so extremely difficult, especially with a lifelong dream on the line. These skills are often what makes or breaks a successful athlete. 

I am currently at the point in my career where shooting for a podium result from race to race is not an unrealistic goal. Some weeks it is a bit loftier than others, but it is an appropriate bar to set for myself. I am thankful to have gotten to this point because in that moment at the handles in Winterberg, of knowing I was in the lowest possible place to make a one-and-done Olympic qualification, I was also gunning for the podium.

Was there someone only a tenth of a second behind me, ready to take my spot? Absolutely. But there was also someone only three hundredths ahead…and a podium spot only eight hundredths away. So where to set my sights was a no-brainer. I ended up in fourth, verifying a pre-qualified status I achieved from my world championships results last season. My runs in Winterberg were not perfect. There was vast room for improvement and while there was potential to be disappointed, I achieved something I never even knew I would set out to attempt.

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