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 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.
It has officially been the warmest season ever, so far, making prep for an Olympic year quite challenging. After chasing ice around North America and coming up all but empty, the international season is officially underway! Our training week in PyeongChang, South Korea, flew by and I did my best to absorb absolutely everything I can.
Now that we’ve left Korea, nobody from the luge world (aside from the Koreans) will be back until the Olympic Winter Games. Those 30 runs were all that we’ll have to test equipment, figure out how to drive this track and learn the fastest way to navigate it from start to finish. The Olympic team will be given six training runs in February but that is far from enough to really learn a track. On that note, it is extra exciting to be at an Olympic venue only a few months from the actual Olympic race!
It’s always interesting to venture to a new place, learn about a new culture and be outside your comfort zone just a bit. Coming to South Korea (last February was our first time) has been exactly that. Being in my 18th year in the sport, trips that include a new country – especially one on the other side of the world – keep things fresh! Most competition seasons resemble each other, in some way, mostly because the locations we go are generally the same every year and each is notoriously identical time after time, save for a few new coffee shops popping up in Sigulda, Latvia or a new hotel in Königssee, Germany.
I’ve been to Japan once before and have always loved Eastern culture so I was excited to check out what PyeongChang has to offer. While we were mostly confined to the hotel, gym and track, wandering around the gardens outside or venturing to a nearby temple have been excellent ways to pass time and get a taste of Korean culture. The temples are beautiful and incredibly peaceful. With the constant go-go-go of life on the road, it was refreshing to step through the gates and let everything slow down and just take in the architecture, artwork, history and spiritual vibe.
If anybody is thinking of making the trip to cheer on Team USA, I highly recommend getting adventurous and checking them out! Another thing not to miss is Korean BBQ! Fortunately we were able to sneak in a dinner outside the hotel and get a taste of traditional fare. I have to proceed with extreme caution, being a huge wimp when it comes to spicy food. They LOVE spicy food in Korea!
The track itself has proven more challenging than anticipated for me, so figuring out how to go fast was momentarily put on the back burner, as I was more concerned with making it down clean! The infamous curve nine (see my video!), frustrating yet doable, and curve 15, which very often catches you completely off guard, had me in check for the first handful of training sessions. At a time when the main goal was testing equipment and finding speed, for me getting comfortable was far more important.
I won’t say things are perfect, but at the very least the comfort mission is accomplished! Then my last few runs were all about finding every thousandth of a second in the track’s 17 curves!
View of the women's start house at sunrise
I’ve been able to witness the evolution of four different Olympic host cities now, as they have prepped to be at center stage of the winter sports world. PyeongChang has been unique in that it seems to be making the Olympics fit into it instead of completely changing itself to fit an Olympics.
Obviously a massive amount of construction has had to happen, but things like the sliding track and ski jumps seem to fit seamlessly into the landscape. Tucked into the side of a hill/small mountain, the track is coiled like a snake with many trees wrapped up in it. It overlooks the valley where on one side is a small village and the other is a ski resort. In the distance, you can see the stadium taking shape where the opening and closing ceremonies will take place. From the start houses, you can look across to the next peak and the ski jumps are just about at eye level and the Nordic course is sprawled out at its base in the next valley over.
This is the first time in my Olympic career there have been so many events that will take place all within a stone’s throw, which will be pretty cool. While most of our time is spent training, either at the track or in the gym, we were able to venture out of the bubble a couple times to see the coastal area (called Gangneung), where indoor events will be held in February, and dip our toes in the East Sea. There are hints of the Olympics around every corner, which heightens the anticipation for February just a tiny bit more.
It is crazy to think how fast time is flying, with the next step being world cup tour – starting this weekend – and the next mission to earn a spot on the Olympic team. I’m looking forward to jumping into race mode after so many weeks of training, and hoping to be back here again in a few short months!