Erin Hamlin clinches USA’s first individual luge medal. #History #TeamUSA #Sochi

imagesKRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — College football coaches sometimes call an important victory a program win.

USA Luge had its program win Tuesday when Erin Hamlin claimed bronze in women’s luge to become the first American to earn an Olympics medal in singles luge.

“I’m stoked,” Hamlin said. “Who knew? I definitely pictured it. It was a big goal of mine. After (the 2010 Games) I was really disappointed, and I knew that’s not how I wanted my Olympic legacy to end. It was super-motivating.”

Hamlin’s unprecedented performance can “raise the profile of the sport,” USA Luge marketing and sponsorship director Gordy Sheer said. “It gives kids someone to aspire to, and it speaks to the strength of what the athletes and coaches are doing.”

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, as expected, won gold, and compatriot Tatjana Hufner took silver, bringing Germany’s Olympic luge medal count to 31 out of a possible 42.

Besides Germany, only Italy, Austria and the former Soviet Union had won medals in women’s luge. The USA joins that group.

USA Luge has had close calls in the Olympics. Courtney Zablocki finished fourth at the 2006 Torino Olympics after heading into the final two heats in third, and Tony Benshoof was second after two heats and finished fourth in Torino.

“When you’re that close, it’s the flip of coin not going your way,” Sheer said.

Hamlin, fresh off a 2009 world championship, went to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics a medal favorite but the tragic death of the Republic of Georgia’s Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training accident forced officials to lower the start. Hamlin struggled with the new start and was out of medal contention after the first heat.

In a sport dominated by Germany, the USA had before Tuesday never stepped on the podium in singles luge — men or women — since it joined the Olympic program in 1964.

2014-2-11 luge medalists
Gold medalist Natalie Geisenberger , center, silver medalist Tatjana Huefner, left, and bronze medalist Erin Hamlin.(Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)

“Luge isn’t the biggest sport at home,” Hamlin said. “Hopefully this gives it a boost, I’m happy to pave the way to the future. Hopefully, it means we get a little more attention, some more funding so we can spread the numbers and a get a lot more kids involved and going forward just get stronger.”

For an underfunded program — compared with the German juggernaut — medals can bring in money, and money leads to more development for athletes, coaches, technology and marketing. This could be a major step in that direction.

“Lots of hard work and a lot of planning over the past four years. Lots of elements had to come together,” USA Luge program director Mark Grimmette said. “One is having a good sled. That’s one important step.”

When Grimmette retired from competitive racing after the 2010 Olympics, he joined USA Luge. He appointed former luge Olympian Duncan Kennedy technical director. Kennedy began working with Dow and Norton to create a technologically advanced sled that could rival German sleds.

“Before, we had the program running, but it would be in fits and stops,” Sheer said. “When came on board and then brought Duncan on in the technical role, it gave us direction.”

Grimmette continued: “What can’t be understated is how hard she works and how hard the coaching staff has worked with her to help make this happen.”

This week, USA Luge developed a quiet optimism after watching Hamlin during training runs.

“Erin holds back a little bit in training,” Grimmette said. “It’s kind of hard to gauge how she’s doing, but you could tell from her times she was going to be competitive for a medal.”

Hamlin had that same cautious optimism.

“When training started to go really well, I got comfortable on the track really early in the week and started having pretty solid runs. … I thought, ‘OK, this could happen.”

Hamlin isn’t the best at the start of a race. But she is a strong driver and gains speed, especially on the lower portion of the track. Hamlin had no trouble navigating three tricky curves, including an uphill section, on the upper half of the track.

She was in medal position after her first three runs, and on the final run, she said, “When I went into that third-to-last curve I thought to myself, ‘I think I just did it.’ ”

A medal for Hamlin, a medal for Team USA and a big win for USA Luge.

1392142527000-USP-Olympics-Luge-Women-s-Single @ErinHamlin #Epic #History #Sochi #TeamUSA #Luge #Amazing #Upstate #Remsen #NewYork =)

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