LILLEHAMMER, Norway - Broken foot aside, Kate Hansen took the opening run lead in Saturday's women's World Cup luge opener, but it was German Natalie Geisenberger who put the hammer down in Lillehammer, coming from behind to equal the track record in the second heat to take the gold medal.
Two-time Olympian and 2009 world champion Erin Hamlin was the fastest American, taking eighth place on a day where a temperature inversion around the Hunderfossen track led to softer ice conditions for late starters. Hansen settled for 12th.
Matt Mortensen and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall took 13th in the doubles race earlier in the day.
Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist Geisenberger, now the defending World Cup and world champion, had run times of 47.964 and 47.883 seconds for a combined 1 minute, 35.847 seconds. The steadily improving Ivanova, fourth in Vancouver, was runner-up in 1:36.031, while Canada's Alex Gough, another Olympic medal threat in February, rallied from eighth place to take the bronze medal in 1:36.233.
"We got to the track today, and it was warmer than at the hotel," said Hamlin, who is from Remsen. "After getting cold weather, that was a rude awakening. The bib number was huge in the first run. Being at the end of the order, the track slowed down so much that you couldn't make any mistakes because it would cost you so much time."
Hamlin ended her day with a two-heat total of 1:36.470.
"I made a little mistake in curve 13 and things multiplied with the slow ice," she continued. "And I had a little mistake in the start curve. Those things were just too much time to make up."
Hansen, the 2008 Junior World Champion and 2013 Norton National Champion from La Canada, Calif., found herself in the closest of races, as she was just 0.01 ahead of Geisenberger and Tatiana Ivanova of Russia at the intermission.
"I was second off after barely qualifying (Friday)," Hansen said. "The run was really good. I had a little trouble with curves 13 and 14 this entire week and made it through clean once. So I was praying for a miracle and that's exactly what I got. I came out of 13 and it was straight. It was unbelievable. I was pretty stoked."
However, it was that same turn combination on the 1994 Olympic course that drifted her back in the final leg.
"The second run was pretty clean until 13-14. I came out and skidded every which way. But it's still a top 12."
Hansen's run ended with a smile and a crutch to support her injury, suffered in training last month in Park City, Utah. She clocked in with 1:36.530.
Hansen's previous best World Cup results were sixth place in Lake Placid last season and eighth in Oberhof, Germany two years ago.
Vancouver Olympian Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, sixth in the World Cup standings last year, also had a late start position in the first attempt and placed 19th in 1:36.716. Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., did not finish the opening run.
Sergeants Mortensen and Griffall, in the Army World Class Athlete Program and members of the National Guard, also had a late draw for the start of the event and were back in 20th at the halfway point, but uncorked the fifth best final heat and pulled up to 13th place.
"The second run was better," stated Mortensen. "We fell victim to a bad start number and declining ice conditions on the first run. The second run was pretty sloppy, but the start number was better. Overall we're satisfied that the actual racing we did was good even though the times did not show that."
Defending World Cup doubles champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany started their Olympic push with a victory by the slimmest of margins, just 0.01 of a second.
The team that did not qualify for Vancouver four seasons ago is the favorite for gold in Sochi.
After winning seven of nine World Cup events last year and the World Championship, Wendl and Arlt had the first run advantage by 0.1 of a second, then watched as their teammates rally from third place fell short. The winners had runs of 47.655 and 47.835 for a total of 1:35.499. Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken were agonizingly close in 1:35.509, with defending two-time Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger. The Austrian brothers clocked 1:35.612.
The podium finishes were identical to the 2013 World Championships last February in Whistler, British Columbia.
Mortensen and Griffall were timed in 1:36.438. Their second heat time was 0.2 behind Eggert and Benecken and 0.1 off the pace of Wendl and Arlt.
Two other American teams did not advance beyond Friday's Nations Cup qualifying. Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk were relegated to spectating as were two-time Olympian Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman.