PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- When U.S. luger Erin Hamlin was in her room in the Olympic Village Wednesday night, she noticed a missed call from Alan Ashley, Team USA’s chef de mission.
Hamlin immediately thought something might be wrong. Instead, Ashley told Hamlin, a four-time Olympian, her fellow U.S. teammates selected her to be the flag bearer at Friday evening’s Opening Ceremony.
“This is something totally different [than winning an Olympic medal],” Hamlin said. “It's something that is because of that hard work. People acknowledge that and respect that. It's a big privilege to represent Team USA. I'm very honored and excited.”
After winning a bronze medal in Sochi, PyeongChang will be Hamlin’s final Games. She will compete in the women’s singles, which begins on Feb. 12 and concludes on Feb. 13, and potentially the Feb. 15 team relay.
Hamlin thought she might have more emotion that came from knowing this was her last time at the Games. Instead, she said, her time in PyeongChang has been “business as usual.” She’s approaching this Games the same way she did in 2014.
“Going into the  Olympics, I had no idea I was going to be back here in four years,” Hamlin said. “In that moment, I went in thinking this could be my last Olympics. I could never be on this stage again, so I really went into with a mindset of have fun, enjoy every minute of it, soak it all in. And it turned out pretty good.”
This time, Hamlin is certain this will be her last time competing at the Olympic level. She said this Games just feels like “bonus time.” Hamlin never thought she would accomplish what she has — four Olympic Winter Games, four world championships medals and an Olympic medal with a chance to win another this month.
“Since 2014, seeing the leaps and bounds our team has made, I think winning that medal kind of got the ball rolling,” Hamlin said. “I'm very glad I was able to set that bar and hopefully it will continue to be raised.”
Hamlin’s bronze medal in Sochi marked the first time a U.S. luger – man or woman – has medaled in singles luge at the Olympics.
That milestone, Hamlin said, could help change young girls’ perceptions of the sport in the U.S., and that is one of the highlights of her athletic career.
“Knowing the impact you're having on kids and how many lives you could potentially change, that's one of the greatest things about sport and about the Olympics,” Hamlin said. “To be on this platform and to know I broke that barrier so girls in the U.S., if they're interested in luge, can say, 'Oh, we've medaled in that sport so it's possible. I can do that.'”
At the 2010 Games, Hamlin’s teammate Mark Grimmette carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony. Hamlin thought it was exciting to have a fellow luger leading the U.S. team. At that point, Grimmette was competing in his fifth Games and had two Olympic medals.
“Wow,” Hamlin remembers thinking. “That's the epitome of being an Olympian.”
Now, in PyeongChang, that’s Hamlin.
Emily Giambalvo is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.