Erin Hamlin leads US luge World Cup sweep at Lake Placid
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) Erin Hamlin paused between runs of the women's World Cup luge race at Mount Van Hoevenberg to ponder the unthinkable - an American sweep of the podium.
Unthinkable before, maybe. Not anymore.
With chants of ''USA! USA! USA!'' from the home crowd echoing at the finish line on a cool Adirondack Mountain day, Hamlin won her first career gold medal in a two-heat singles race on Saturday, just ahead of teammates Emily Sweeney and Summer Britcher.
It marked the first sweep in singles by the U.S. team.
''I have always wanted to be on the top of the podium in the World Cup,'' said Hamlin, who grew up in Remsen, New York, about 130 miles southwest of Lake Placid. ''This was just the one last check in the career. It's exciting to do it at home. Knowing that these guys also got medals today is awesome. Standing up at the top thinking that we could go one, two, three is exhilarating.''
Hamlin eclipsed her own track record with a time of 43.912 seconds on her first run and followed with a solid second run to finish in 1:27.961. The victory boosted her to the top of the season standings by one point over German star Natalie Geisenberger.
Sweeney finished 0.175 seconds behind and Britcher slid past Geisenberger to take the bronze.
It's the first World Cup podium finishes for Sweeney and Britcher.
Geisenberger, who has 31 World Cup victories and has been almost unbeatable since winning bronze at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, finished fourth. Tatiana Ivanova of Russia was fifth, Eliza Cauce of Latvia sixth, and Raychel Germaine of the U.S. seventh.
Dajana Eitberger of Germany, who won the first race of the season last week at Igls, Austria, was ninth.
Sweeney said she jokingly thought about an American sweep in training during the week.
''Obviously, it was possible, but no one was expecting it,'' Sweeney said. ''This is awesome. The whole weekend has just been fantastic.''
It got even better when Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer, and the doubles team of Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk combined to win the team event Saturday afternoon, giving the U.S. gold medals in all three events, another first. It was USA Luge's first triumph in the team event since it was added to the World Cup in the 2010-11 season.
The U.S. team started strong on Friday when Mazdzer and Tucker West finished 1-2 in men's singles. That was a first for the team in singles at a World Cup event - three American doubles teams swept the World Cup podium in Lillehammer, Norway, in December 1996 - and gave Mazdzer the lead in the men's standings.
Last year at Mount Van Hoevenberg, Hamlin finished second to Geisenberger, the reigning Olympic and world champion, for her best previous finish in a World Cup singles event.
Hamlin and Sweeney sent a message on the first run Saturday that they would be strong contenders for medals. Hamlin finished a near-flawless effort down the tricky layout in 43.912 seconds. Hamlin set the previous mark of 43.985 in February 2009 when she stunned the German women and won gold at world championships, snapping an incredible 99-race winning streak by the Germans.
Sweeney, strong all week in practice, followed Hamlin with a first run in 44.033 seconds to stand second and set up the chance for another 1-2 finish atop the podium. Then Britcher stunned the Germans one more time, sliding past Geisenberger on the second run to take bronze.
It was a tough weekend for Germany. On Friday, two-time Olympic champion Felix Loch, who has won the last four World Cup men's singles titles, didn't execute the section known as the Chicane (curves 15-16), which features a slight change of direction in an otherwise straight section of the 20-curve track.
Loch hit the right wall on his second run while comfortably ahead, the contact nearly sending him sideways and dropping him to sixth place, same as a year ago here.
Eitberger suffered a similar fate on her first run Saturday, hitting both walls coming out of the Chicane to fall out of medal contention.
As Hamlin, Sweeney and Britcher smiled and hugged on the podium, their families and friends cheering wildly nearby, German coach Georg Hackl stepped in to congratulate the trio.
''It's a home advantage a little bit, but on every other track you can see that the U.S. sliders are coming up very well, coming very close,'' said Hackl, a three-time Olympic champion and considered by many to be the greatest luger in history. ''It is important. It is really important. It's boring and not exciting when always the same people are winning and on the podium.''
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