Erin Hamlin has served as the face of luge in the United States for almost a decade. The four-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.
Don’t drop it. Don’t trip. Don’t have anything in your teeth, or on your face...
As an elite athlete I am very well accustomed to being in pressure-filled situations. I actually thrive in them. Feeling the weight of expectation from coaches, family and myself on my shoulders more often than not causes me to perform at my best. But those situations involve sliding, racing, all things I’ve grown so used to and are my everyday normal.
This was something totally different. It was a whole new level of pressure, expectation and spotlight that COULD NOT go wrong. Plus, let’s be serious… wayyyy more people watch the Opening Ceremony than luge!
When I found out I was chosen to be the Opening Ceremony flag bearer for Team USA in PyeongChang I actually didn’t really believe it. I had to do the double and triple check of asking a few times and then had to zip my lips and keep it top-secret, which was so incredibly difficult with all of my teammates in the same apartment. I sat in my room by myself not really knowing what to think or how to react. It seemed a bit surreal.
When I got the OK, I called my family and then it all sunk in. My mom cried, my brother Sean gave me the first bit of very useful advice, telling me not to drop it, and I definitely got a little nervous. I had a whirlwind day of interviews and photo shoots starting at the crack of dawn, thankfully on a day off from training. Then it was a waiting game.
After training for four years for the Olympic Games, everything seems to go by so quickly once you get on that plane for whatever country is hosting. All the time, energy and emotions put in come to a peak and in a flash, everything is released and it’s over. Except for the time between finding out and getting that flag put into my hands. Those hours seemed to drag on!
I wasn’t sure if the gravity of how big of a deal it is to be flag bearer resonated throughout the population outside of the Olympic bubble but after returning and hearing from so many people I now understand that it does. The privilege of representing my country on a stage like the Olympics just as a competitor alone is such an amazing thing and I feel so fortunate to have been able to do it four times.
Receiving the honor and having the duty to proudly lead our contingency of talented, fierce, passionate athletes is on a whole other level. Being acknowledged as a leader, veteran athlete and worthy representative of every individual is something that gives me more pride and sense of accomplishment than any competition result could.
The values of our country represent so much that others strive for and respect. As somebody who truly believes in the facets that make us great – freedom, justice, diversity – it was a humbling honor to carry that flag.
When the time came, I was first nervous about being sore…no idea how heavy it was going to be and my arms are essential to success in my sport…and also about not messing up. I’m not exactly known for being the most graceful person so my brother’s advice kept echoing in my head and I really made sure to tie my boots extra tight and NOT let them catch on anything. My biggest fear was tripping…or making that flag look unworthy! I am thankful for my teammates who made sure I didn’t have anything in my teeth.
It occurred to me last minute that all the first front-page photos of Team USA were probably going to have me smack in the middle. After the long wait to lead the team and the standing around for the ceremony to begin, the experience went by just like every other part of the Olympics: in a split second. The energy flowing through the team as we waited to enter the stadium was electric and it has always pumped everyone up so much as we are gearing up to compete on the highest level that we’ve prepared for over so many years.
Having more than 200 of the best athletes in the USA behind me, many of whom I look up to and have been very inspired by, was an incredibly humbling moment. First-timers, five-timers, a handful of coaches, all wielding the most stylish gloves ever and all rallying together to show the world what the USA is made of. That is a moment I will always be grateful for and most definitely never forget.