German star defends luge title in Hamlin’s last race
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Natalie Geisenberger refuses to call herself the best women’s luge athlete ever.
The history books may do it for her.
Germany has yet another Olympic gold medalist after Geisenberger prevailed in the women’s luge final on Tuesday — her second consecutive title and one that added yet another page to her burgeoning resume of accomplishments.
“The most of what you reach in sport is an Olympic gold medal,” Geisenberger said.
And now, no luger has ever won more gold than Geisenberger . It’s the third gold in her collection, the two singles wins now paired with the team relay win from the Sochi Games. That ties her with Georg Hackl and Felix Loch — both fellow Germans, of course — for the most in Olympic history.
She’ll go for a fourth gold later this week in the Pyeongchang team relay.
“For me, it was the most big goal or dream — I would say dream — that I wanted to reach,” Geisenberger said.
Geisenberger’s winning time for four runs at the Alpensia Sliding Center was 3 minutes, 5.232 seconds. German teammate Dajana Eitberger was second, nearly four-tenths of a second back. Alex Gough was third for Canada, giving that nation its long-awaited first Olympic luge medal.
For the Americans, it was a night that won’t be forgotten, for an array of reasons. Erin Hamlin’s long career ended with a sixth-place finish in her fourth Olympics, while Summer Britcher struggled and finished 19th and Emily Sweeney failed to finish at all after losing control of her sled on the final run in what was a horrifying crash.
Sweeney, a Lake Placid resident, was down for several minutes, but avoided serious injury.
“I’m OK,” she told The Associated Press as she left the finish area.
Hamlin, of Remsen, was all smiles as she left, completely at ease at the end of a career that saw her win 23 World Cup medals on 12 different tracks, two world championships and Olympic bronze at Sochi in 2014. She was fifth going into the final run and held nothing back, but the storybook finish wasn’t in the cards.
“I was really hoping to end on a more positive note,” Hamlin said afterward, smiling broadly. “But unfortunately, that did not happen. And that’s all right.”
So now, retirement starts. Hamlin said she would sleep in on Wednesday, hang out in Pyeongchang for the remainder of the Olympics, then probably take a trip to Hawaii.
“I’ve kind of experienced all bits of the spectrum,” Hamlin said. “I have been completely devastated by an Olympics, just kind of cruised through one and had fun, was super-elated at one. The years of experience play into it for sure, and keeping everything in perspective I think is big.”
USA Luge picked Britcher — the track record-holder in Pyeongchang — to do Thursday’s team relay. That means Hamlin has competed internationally for the final time.
“Summer’s fast here,” Hamlin said. “I think we have a really good shot. It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait to see how things go down.”
Hamlin is gone, and Gough sounds like she’s going: After getting Canada its first medal, Gough said she’s likely to retire.
Gough jumped back into the top three after Germany’s Tatjana Huefner had trouble in her final run, on a night where slips and spills were just about as newsworthy as Geisenberger’s dominance. Huefner settled for fourth, and Canada’s Kimberley McRae was fifth.
“Winning a medal is huge for not only myself but the program in Canada,” said Gough, who was fourth in the 2014 Olympics. “We came so close in Sochi four years ago and I knew going into it that if I could put together four good, consistent runs the opportunity was there.”
Geisenberger, however, doesn’t sound like she’s leaving anytime soon.
The all-time World Cup wins leader just turned 30 last week, and remains the top slider on the top team in the world. It’s the sixth straight Olympics that Germany has gotten at least two of the three women’s singles medals in luge, and Geisenberger now becomes the third woman to win consecutive golds — joining countrywomen Steffi Martin Walter and Sylke Otto.
The German anthem will play for her again.
“That’s the moment I live for,” Geisenberger said. “That’s the moment I fight for. That’s the moment I give everything I have for.”