|Kate Hansen (left) reacts on the podium after winning her first luge world cup race on Jan. 25, 2014 in Sigulda, Latvia. (Photo courtesy FIL)|
SIGULDA, Latvia – Two hours after racing to her first career World Cup luge win on Saturday in Latvia, Kate Hansen was still unsure of what transpired.
“It has not hit me at all. Honestly, I am just exhausted,” said the 21 year from La Canada, Calif., nominated to her first Olympic team next month in Sochi. “It has been a long week and I am just grateful to have made it through a week of Sigulda training and still walking. When I wake up tomorrow I’ll be like, Whoa, what happened yesterday?”
Hansen’s win was the first in World Cup singles for USA Luge since 1997 when Cameron Myler also won in Sigulda, and Wendel Suckow took gold in Nagano, both in the same calendar year but different seasons.
Also, the doubles team of Christian Niccum and Matt McClain were World Cup gold medalists here in 1998, following the World Cup win of Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer on the same track in 1995. More recently Erin Hamlin captured gold at the 2009 World Championship.
Niccum now with Jayson Terdiman finished 14th in the doubles event later in the day. They fell in line behind the duo of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall, who placed 13th.
Hamlin might have been battling her teammate for victory in Saturday’s World Cup final had it not been for some problems at the start of both heats. Nominated to her third Olympic berth in Sochi, the Remsen, N.Y. product was somewhat under the weather, but still feisty enough to be annoyed at the mistakes that left her just outside the podium.
“I never thought I’d be this upset with a fourth place in my career, but it happens,” said Hamlin. She hit the right wall in the first run that caused some skidding, and had problems through the initial curves in the second heat. “It’s a bummer. It’s a huge opportunity missed but it happens.”
Summer Britcher, 19, of Glen Rock, Pa., like Hansen, was nominated to her first Olympic team in February. She finished 12th Saturday in completing her first full season on the World Cup tour. Britcher is now headed to the Junior World Championships Jan. 31- Feb. 1 in Igls, Austria, followed by the trip to Sochi.
Hansen overtook first run leader Alex Gough of Canada by setting a Sigulda track record in the final leg. On a cold day near the Baltic Sea, the winner clocked times of 42.089 and 41.887 seconds for a total of 1 minute, 23.976 seconds. She took a .07 of a second disadvantage and turned it into a victory over Gough by the same margin.
“The runs were good. The ice was hard,” said Hansen. “The start was a little rough but I pulled really fast. The transitions were clean for the most part. There’s more I could have done, but I’m really stoked by it all.”
The Canadian, who completed the World Cup campaign in second place overall, is expected to contend for her country’s first Olympic luge medal in three weeks. Her second place time was 1:24.052, with Russian Natalia Khoreva third in 1:24.155. Hamlin was another .17 of a second behind. Britcher was 0.65 off Hansen’s pace.
That Hansen continued racing after breaking a bone in her right foot is a victory unto itself. After winning the Norton National Championship in October, a week later she crashed in a Park City training run, putting her future in jeopardy.
To illustrate Hansen’s mettle she rebounded later that week with a victory in the seeding series, putting her onto the World Cup team. In the first half of the tour season, she scored a World Cup top five and two top 10s to stake her claim to Sochi. This result, it is hoped, will give her an A seed start position for the Olympic race in Sochi.
She ended the World Cup season ranked seventh overall with 384 points. Hamlin was just ahead in sixth place with 415. It mirrored last year’s team standing when Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine and Hamlin placed 6-7 on the year.
Italy’s Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber won the doubles event that was devoid of the entire German Olympic team. They had a pair of runs that totaled 1:23.388. Russians Vladislav Yuzhakov and Vladimir Makhnutin picked up their second medal of the season and their careers when they collected the silver in 1:23.434. Two-time and defending Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger of Austria raced to a bronze medal. The brothers were timed in 1:23.467.
Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Griffall of Salt Lake City were 13th in 1:24.793. Niccum of Woodinville, Wash. and Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. took 14th in 1:24.926.
All four doubles athletes are headed to Sochi. It will be Niccum’s third trip to the Games; the second time for Griffall; and the first Games appearances for Mortensen and Terdiman.
Sunday marks the final day of the World Cup season. USA Luge will be represented by Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y. in the men’s singles competition. His Sochi teammates Tucker West of Ridgefield, Conn. and Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. competed in the Junior World Cup Saturday in Oberhof, Germany in preparation for the Junior World Championships.
West scored a bronze medal, while Kelly was 11th.