SIGULDA, Latvia — Kate Hansen is going into the Sochi Olympics on a winning streak, after giving USA Luge something it chased for 16 years.
Hansen was a surprise winner of the World Cup women’s season finale on Saturday, becoming the first American to prevail in a singles race on the circuit since Nov. 22, 1997 and giving both her and the team a major infusion of confidence heading into next month’s Sochi Games.
"Of course it’s a great surprise for me," Hansen said. "I’ve never dreamed of winning the event."
Hansen was a 5-year-old when Cameron Myler gave the U.S. its most recent singles victory on the World Cup circuit, which also came in Sigulda. And she wasn’t even born when Germany last failed to have a woman reach the medal podium after a race on tour.
Improbable as it sounds, both things happened Saturday. The 21-year-old Hansen capped her win with a track-record run in the second heat, while Germany — which in fairness kept its top three sliders, including World Cup champion Natalie Geisenberger, out of the competition so they could prepare for the Olympics instead — had no one finish better than seventh, an absolute rarity for the deepest team in the world.
Hansen’s gold is the first for the U.S. in any major international race since Erin Hamlin won the world championship in 2009.
"This is a momentous occasion," USA Luge spokesman Sandy Caligiore said.
Hansen’s two-run time was 1 minute, 23.976 seconds. Canada’s Alex Gough led after the first run but finished second, 0.076 seconds off Hansen’s pace. Natalia Khoreva of Russia took third, 0.176 seconds back and Hamlin was fourth for the Americans.
The other U.S. slider in the race, Summer Britcher, took 12th.
Germany’s top slider was Dajana Eitberger, about a half-second behind Hansen. Germany had medaled in every World Cup women’s singles race since 1988.
Whether the German best were there or not, it was still a breakthrough for Hansen.
The U.S. national champion held the lead at the midway point of the season-opening race at Lillehammer, Norway, then slipped all the way back to 12th in the second heat. And before Saturday, she had never even medaled in a World Cup race.
Now she’s heading to her first Olympics knowing how winning feels.
"I don’t know if the pressure with regard to the upcoming Olympic Games will be greater now," Hansen said. "It’s a good question. But we’ll see."
Geisenberger, who clinched the World Cup title a week earlier, finished the season with 785 standings points. Gough was second with 626, Germany’s Tatjana Huefner was third with 551, followed by Germany’s Anke Wischnewski (493) and Eitberger (432).
Hamlin was sixth for the U.S. with 415 points, one spot ahead of Hansen with 384. Britcher, the third American women’s luger heading to the Sochi Games, was 14th in the seasonlong race with 249 points.
In the doubles race later Saturday, Italy’s Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber prevailed with a two-run time of 1:23.388, their first win of the season.
Vladislav Yuzhakov and Vladimir Makhnutin of Russia were second in 1:23.434, and the Austrian duo of Andreas Linger and Wolfgang Linger were third in 1:23.467.
Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall were 13th for the U.S., one spot ahead of countrymen Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman.