Erin Hamlin ready as luge World Cup returns to Lake Placid
LAKE PLACID (AP) – It’s been four years since Erin Hamlin stunned the world of luge by winning women’s singles in the world championships on her friendly home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
With a sixth-place finish in this year’s worlds fresh in the rearview mirror, Hamlin returns to the site of that signature triumph when the World Cup tour stops in Lake Placid for the first time since November 2007. Women’s singles and doubles races will be staged Friday, and the men will slide on Saturday morning before the team event concludes the competition.
It’s the eighth race of the season – only the finale at Sochi, Russia, site of next year’s Winter Olympics, remains in two weeks – and it promises to be different for Hamlin. Just the thought of being the one that stopped the amazing German winning streak that spanned 99 straight races is enough to weigh a bit on the mind.
“It was great being able to race in a huge race at home (in 2009) and obviously winning,” Hamlin said. “I’m excited to race here again, but it’ll be a lot of expectations, I think, that I’m going to put on myself.”
Four years ago, the only expectation was that the German women would continue their dominance. They arrived at Lake Placid with that magic No. 100 victory seemingly there for the taking.
Until Hamlin, then just 22, beat German star Natalie Geisenberger, the German women had been as dominant a force as any dynasty in any sport. Their previous loss had come on Nov. 29, 1997, at Koenigssee, Germany. Gerda Weissensteiner of Italy had been the last non-German world champion in women’s singles – in 1993.
Before Hamlin’s win, Austria’s Angelika Neuner, who won bronze on her home track at Igls in 1997, was the last non-German to win a medal at worlds. And the German women didn’t just dominate on their home tracks at worlds. Of their eight straight sweeps, only two were on home ice.
Last week, at worlds, on the Olympic track at Whistler, Germany again proved it could dominate anywhere. Led by defending world and Olympic champion Felix Loch, the Germans swept the first four places in men’s singles and finished 1-2 in both women’s singles and doubles.
Although Hamlin still has not won a World Cup race – she has won five bronze medals since her gold at worlds and ranks seventh this season – she’ll have plenty of support. A throng of folks from her hometown of Remsen, N.Y. – population around 500, give or take a few – hope to make the relatively short trip through the Adirondack Mountains to offer their support, just as they did not so long ago.
“It’s exciting to be at home for once,” said Hamlin, seventh overall in the World Cup standings. “I’ll have my own car. It’ll be nice to have all the comforts of home you don’t always have on the road.”
Geisenberger has won five of seven women’s races this World Cup season, finishing second in the two she didn’t win, to comfortably lead the standings. Teammate Anke Wischnewski and Russian star Tatiana Ivanova captured the other two events. Wischnewski is a distant second in the standings, Germany’s Tatyana Huefner is third, and Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, sits just one point behind teammate Hamlin in the standings.
Ivanova won’t be in the mix this time. Russia’s national luge squad will not compete at Lake Placid, opting instead – as the future hosts of the 2014 Winter Games – to get in some training runs on the Olympic track. However, they will have to share the facility with the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, which also will be training.
On the men’s side, two-time Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler of Italy will return to compete at Lake Placid. Zoeggeler, who skipped worlds because of back problems, won the first-ever men’s race on the new track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, capturing the gold at the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games just aft er the 20-curve layout opened.
Three of the greatest lugers in history – Germans Georg Hackl and Jens Mueller and Austria’s Markus Prock – elected not to compete because of safety concerns.