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Local Olympian Britcher finishes 15th in luge competition

Posted on 11 February 2014 by WNST Staff

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Finally, Olympic gold for Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger.

Finally, Olympic anything for Erin Hamlin and the United States.

Leaving no doubt that she absolutely rules her sport, Geisenberger won the women’s luge gold medal at the Sochi Games on Tuesday — posting the second-largest victory margin in Olympic history. Her final time was 3 minutes, 19.768 seconds, 1.139 seconds better than German teammate Tatjana Huefner, the 2010 gold medalist.

And Hamlin finished third, grabbing the first medal for any American singles luge athlete at the Olympics, 50 years after luge first appeared at the games. So in the sport’s golden anniversary as part of the Olympics, Hamlin came up with bronze, a feat that will surely go down as perhaps the greatest moment in USA Luge history.

U.S. individual sliders had been fourth on three occasions at the Olympics, but never any better. So every four years, the same question gets asked — when will an American break through?

Hamlin, a native of Remsen, N.Y., finally put an end to that.

Hamlin finished 0.236 seconds behind Huefner in the race for silver, but held off Canada’s Alex Gough by 0.433 seconds for the final spot on the flower stand. It was the fifth Olympic medal for USA Luge, the first four — two silvers and two bronzes — coming in doubles races.

When Hamlin crossed the line, that medal finally clinched, she threw her arms skyward, then covered her face briefly with her hands. U.S. coach Mark Grimmette — a doubles medalist for the Americans — raced over to offer congratulations, and men’s slider Chris Mazdzer reached down from the bleachers to hand Hamlin the U.S. flag.

“It’s amazing,” Hamlin said. “It’s surreal, really.”

Then the roars kept coming, for the Germans.

Maybe it was fitting that Geisenberger, Huefner and Hamlin were the three who found their way to the top. Every single time since 2007, in the year’s final race — either the world championships or the Olympics — one of those three women were crowned champion. And this marked the first time in Olympic women’s luge history that three world champions stood side by side on the medal podium.

But there’s no doubt which one stands tallest these days, both literally and figuratively.

Geisenberger turned 26 last week, already was a world champion and World Cup champion, and now has the Olympic title after taking the bronze in Vancouver four years ago. Much likeFelix Loch, the men’s two-time Olympic champion and fellow protege of all-time great Georg Hackl, her run of dominance might just be getting started.

How dominant was Geisenberger at the Sochi Olympics? Consider: The victory margins posted by the last four Olympic women’s winners, combined, was 0.949 seconds. Geisenberger’s lead after three runs this time was 1.049 seconds. And she didn’t take her foot off the gas for the final run, either.

In other words, there was never a doubt.

Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif., was 10th for the U.S., and Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., placed 15th. They were both making their Olympic debuts.

Geisenberger dominated the World Cup circuit this year with seven wins in eight starts, came to Sochi brimming with confidence, then simply made no mistakes. Geisenberger’s lead was just over three-quarters of a second after Monday’s first two heats, and she had confessed in the days leading up to the race that she was concerned about how she would handle sleeping with the lead.

Given what she did to open things up Tuesday, it’s a safe guess she snoozed rather soundly.

All she did in the opening run of the third heat was set a track record, a trip that took 49.765 seconds and took away any chance — there wasn’t much to begin with — that she would be getting caught.

Gold was Germany’s again, the fifth straight time that’s happened and the 10th time in 14 Olympics overall. It also was the ninth time that German women, either unified or separated in the days the country was divided into east and west, won gold and silver.

For them, Olympic hardware is a constant.

And for the U.S., it’s no longer out of reach.

“I’m sure everyone at home is going crazy,” Hamlin said, “and I can’t wait to get home to see them.”

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Local Olympian Britcher in 15th place headed to luge finals

Posted on 10 February 2014 by WNST Staff

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – (AP) – History. It’s what German lugers always seem to be making. And it’s what Erin Hamlin is chasing.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger closed in on what appears to be an inevitable Olympic gold medal Monday night, finishing the first two runs of the women’s luge competition in 1 minute, 39.814 seconds. That’s 0.766 seconds better than her countrywoman Tatjana Huefner, who took the title at the Vancouver Games.

Germans first and second? That’s no surprise.

Instead, the surprise is who’s on their heels in third.

Hamlin — vying to be the first American to win a singles luge medal at the Olympics — was second after the first heat, then slipped to third at the midway point after losing about a tenth of a second to Huefner in her second trip down the Sanki Sliding Center track.

Still, a medal is very much within reach for the 2009 world champion from Remsen, N.Y.

“I’ll take it,” Hamlin said. “Definitely.”

Huefner’s time was 1:40.580. Hamlin’s was 1:40.632, giving her a cushion of 0.216 seconds over fourth-place Natalja Khoreva of Russia.

Barring a crash or major mistake from Geisenberger, no one will be catching her for the top spot — her lead at the midway point is the second-largest in women’s Olympic luge history.

“The first run was perfect,” Geisenberger said. “The second one was a little bit worse, but good enough. I’m absolutely satisfied with both runs.”

The final two runs are Tuesday night.

Hamlin was 12th at the Turin Games and 16th four years ago in Vancouver, where the start position was moved down the track after a men’s slider died in a training accident hours before those Olympics began. Hamlin never figured out the new start and her chances there ended essentially before the racing even got started.

Not this time. Training times suggested she would be in the mix, and two solid runs Tuesday might give her what she’s spent half a lifetime chasing.

“I like my consistency,” Hamlin said.

Also for the U.S., Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif., is 10th, and Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., is 15th.

Geisenberger is a protege of the German great Georg Hackl, much like Felix Loch, who won his second straight Olympic gold on Sunday night in the men’s competition. She was the second woman down the ramp in the opening heat, and if anyone needed a reminder she’s the world’s best, she opened a one-run lead of 0.465 seconds.

It meant most of her competitors were beaten before getting on the ice. Italy’s Sandra Gasparini made one small slip and finished 1.141 seconds behind Geisenberger in that first heat. She shrugged and playfully punched her helmet when the run was over, as if to say, “What else can I do?”

So the race is essentially for second, and an American actually has a shot. Three times in Olympic singles luge history, a U.S. man or woman has finished in fourth. The U.S. has four Olympic luge medals, all in doubles, two silver and two bronze.

By comparison, Germany — if combining the days when the nation was split into East and West — has 52 Olympic singles luge medals, 71 overall at the games. That’s about a couple dozen more than all other nations combined, and it’s a tally that is almost certainly going to rise when Geisenberger finishes her fourth run to complete her long-awaited coronation as the sport’s undisputed best.

“It’s a good lead,” Geisenberger said, “and I don’t have to be nervous.”

Geisenberger said she’s curious to know what it’ll be like to try to sleep knowing she leads at the Olympics. Hamlin had her usual large group of family and well-wishers cheering her every move Monday night, and she seems relaxed — much as she was on the way to the 2009 world title in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“I don’t think, ‘Oh, I want to make history’ as much as I want to get a medal,” Hamlin said. “I did once before and I didn’t even think about it then, so maybe that’s the way to go. I’m just trying to set everything up, have fun, and be happy with my runs. That’s the bottom line.”

 

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Local Olympic hopeful Britcher begins Olympic luge competition Monday

Posted on 10 February 2014 by WNST Staff

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Natalie Geisenberger can be beaten. It just doesn’t happen very often.

The German will look to add Olympic gold to her list of luge accomplishments — which include bronze in Vancouver — when the women’s competition at the Sochi Games gets underway Monday night with the first two runs of a four-heat competition.

Medals will be decided in the final two runs on Tuesday. All four count toward a slider’s total time.

Geisenberger was beaten only once in the World Cup season, by teammate Tatjana Huefner, the defending Olympic champion who almost seems like an afterthought entering these games. And while that might not be wise, it makes some sense given Geisenberger’s dominance during the past two years.

Here’s five things to watch as the women’s luge competition begins at Sanki Sliding Center:

UPSET CHANCES? No one is likely to catch Geisenberger or Huefner, unless they crash or make a big mistake. But if disaster strikes the favorites, Canada’s Alex Gough might see the door to becoming an Olympic champion swing wide open. Gough might be the most consistent, most talented non-German in the women’s luge right now.

AMERICAN HOPES: Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., is a former world champion, and Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif., won the last World Cup race on the circuit this season. Sure, no American has ever won a luge singles medal at the Olympics. And while it might be slightly surprising if Hamlin or Hansen break through against this stacked field, it would hardly be a complete stunner.

THE KEY: The three uphill portions leave very little room for error on the Sanki Sliding Center track. The course is long, but that just means there’s more room for mistakes. If the men’s competition showed anything, it’s that sliders have to be pretty clean at the start of the track, then settle in before the first five or six curves are completed. After that, good luck making up time.

INTIMIDATION FACTOR: Geisenberger will be the second woman on the track in the first run. If she puts up a great time, the other hopefuls in the field might feel beaten before the race even starts.

BEST NAME: In the Winter Games best name contest, a podium place has to go to American luger Summer Britcher, from Glen Rock, Pa.

 

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