Final Olympics for Erin Hamlin

United States Olympic luger Erin Hamlin of Remsen posted this photo from South Korea on her Facebook page. (Photo provided)

Erin Hamlin’s Olympic dream began 18 years ago, and this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she intends to finish it.

Hamlin 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 and silver in singles and team relay. At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Hamlin earned bronze, becoming the first U.S. singles luger ever to earn an Olympic medal. After a successful career, Hamlin has been selected as Team USA’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games

Now she plans to retire after these Olympics.

In a sport normally dominated by Germans, Hamlin was the first non-German to win a gold medal in the women’s singles event at the 2009 World Luge Championships in Lake Placid. This marked the first time in 99 races that a German woman was not the top finisher.

This year’s favorite for Olympic gold is German Natalie Geisenberger, who grew up next to a luge track.

Hamlin, 31, lives in Lake Placid when she’s training and otherwise in Remsen, where she grew up. She has three horses, a yellow Lab and a rescue cat.

Writing on the teamusa.org blog, Hamlin said, “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.

“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.”

The sport of luge requires the athlete to maintain a relaxed position while hurtling down an ice track at speeds over 80 mph. Lugers steer with minute adjustments of their calf muscles; any wasted motion adds time to a race that is measured by hundredths of a second.

In the qualifying race in Winterburg, Germany, in November 2017, Geisenberger, the defending Olympic champion, had the two fastest runs of the event, totaling 1 minute, 53.484 seconds. Huefner clocked 1:53.832, with the U.S.’s Summer Britcher next in 1:53.893 and Hamlin fourth in 1:54.042. Women’s luge races include two runs, and the speeds are averaged to find the final time.

Hamlin and other Olympians utilize sports psychologists “when needed to handle high-stress situations,” she writes. In addition, she practices yoga.

“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.”

Speaking at a press conference in Pyeongchang on Wednesday, Hamlin said she never expected her life to take this direction. Recently engaged, Hamlin said she has “an exciting new life waiting in the wings.”

“In the past four years a lot has changed for my career that I hadn’t expected,” she said. “I went into the Vancouver games as a reigning world champion, so that seemed like the perfect moment to me to hit the peak of my career, and then I struggled for the next few years to get consistency back. Then I showed up in Sochi not expecting to walk away with a medal.”

Hamlin said she was surprised by the Sochi win. “That having put everything upside down, I decided to take a different approach to competing, and the last four years have been some of my most successful.”

She gave a lot of credit to teammate and friend Summer Britcher for pushing her.

“It’s been awesome to see our team evolve and be one of the top teams competing, pushing for the podium every week, and for me that has been very motivating,” she said.

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