If anyone is going to beat the German women in luge, two perfect runs are pretty much required.
U.S. national champion Kate Hansen was one run short.
Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger wound up winning the women’s World Cup season opener on Saturday, finishing two runs in 1 minute, 35.847 seconds for her country’s 122nd gold medal in the last 126 races on the circuit. Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova was second in 1:36.031, and Canada’s Alex Gough took third in 1:36.233.
Hansen was the surprise leader after the first run, and was the last woman down the track in the second run, knowing exactly what she needed for what would have been the first World Cup win by an American woman in 16 years. But she posted just the 22nd-fastest time out of 23 sliders in the second heat, finishing 12th overall.
"I guess it’s a little bittersweet, but I still got 12th," Hansen said. "And I haven’t gotten a top-12 in years."
Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., was the top American finisher, placing eighth and moving closer to locking up a spot on the U.S. team that will compete in the Sochi Olympics. Hamlin won the 2009 world championship, but no U.S. woman has won a World Cup race since Cameron Myler did in Sigulda, Latvia, on Nov. 22, 1997.
"Not completely dissatisfied with my race," Hamlin said. "Definitely some things to improve on. I’m hopefully going to be able to keep my sled running like it is."
Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine, was 19th. The fourth American in the field, Summer Britcher of Glen Rock, Pa., crashed in her first run.
Racing with a broken foot, Hansen was the second racer to go down the track out of 24 in the first heat, finishing her opening run in 47.954 seconds. With most of the usual race-day favorites like Geisenberger, Gough and Tatjana Hufner still to slide, it was somewhat expected that Hansen’s time atop the leaders’ box would only last for a few minutes.
But no one caught her in that first heat, and the native of La Canada, Calif., found herself squarely in the medal mix.
"I will say that being the fastest after the first run with a broken foot was a pretty unbelievable feeling that I may or may not ever get again," Hansen said.
By winning the first heat, Hansen got to slide last in the second one. A time of 48.279 seconds would have been enough to ensure no worse than a bronze medal.
"It was refreshing, to say the least," Hamlin said of not only seeing an American in the top spot at the midway point, but with someone having beaten the Germans again, if only for one run.
But Hansen’s second-run time was 48.576 seconds, a slow start proving to be too much to overcome. Still, Hansen walked away anything but disappointed.
"I can’t be mad," Hansen said. "It’s pretty unbelievable, if I say so."
Earlier Saturday, defending World Cup champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany prevailed in the doubles season-opener, finishing in 1:35.499. Another German team, Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, took second in 1:35.509. Two-time defending Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger were third, the Austrian brothers finishing in 1:35.612.
The only U.S. team in the doubles field, Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y., and Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City, had the fifth-fastest second run and rallied to a 13th-place finish.