Luge world champion Erin Hamlin has a new, long-awaited medal to add to her collection. And some of her teammates can now start thinking about Olympic medals of their own.
Hamlin was third in a World Cup race at Lillehammer, Norway on Sunday for her highest finish ever in the series, becoming the first U.S. woman to medal on the top international circuit since Ashley Hayden took bronze at Winterberg in 2005.
Hamlin, a 23-year-old from Remsen, N.Y., led midway through Sunday's two-run event, then finished 0.037 seconds shy of gold as the World Cup luge season hit its midway point.
"It's a nice way to end the first half," said Hamlin, who locked up her Olympic trip last weekend. "Obviously it would have been very cool and continue after my first run and be first, but I'm definitely not disappointed with a third place. I have been sliding really well all week, so it's nice to cap it off with a good race."
Next up for Hamlin: A trip home for the formal unveiling of the Olympic luge team in New York on Friday, before the second half of the season resumes in Europe in early January. USA Luge will send 10 sliders to the Vancouver Games, and after Sunday, seven sliders can finally rest easier, knowing they're headed to the Olympics.
Hamlin won the world championship last season on her home track in Lake Placid, N.Y. It'll be her second Olympics after finishing 12th at Turin in 2006.
"I wouldn't say I'm really focusing on (the Olympics) yet," Hamlin said. "In 2006 I kind of learned that it is just like any other race, so I'm not really going to hype everything up at all. It'll be a lot of fun and there's just a lot more going on, which is sometimes good because it can kind of occupy you. But at the same time, it's going to start lingering in the back of my mind a little bit more for sure."
It'll start lingering in the minds of some of Hamlin's teammates now as well.
Julia Clukey of Augusta, Maine was nominated to the women's Olympic team Sunday through a coaches' discretionary pick, even though she's been slowed in recent weeks by a neck injury. The third women's spot will be decided in a race-off later this week in Lillehammer, with sisters Megan Sweeney and Erin Sweeney of Suffield, Conn. in the field, along with Kate Hansen of La Canada, Calif.
Tony Benshoof of White Bear Lake, Minn., sealed his third Olympic trip on Sunday with a ninth-place finish in the Lillehammer men's race. USA Luge announced later Sunday that the other two men's singles spots for Vancouver will go to former Swedish Olympian and recently naturalized U.S. citizen Bengt Walden of Lake Placid, N.Y., and Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, N.Y.
In doubles, there's still some unsettled drama.
Veterans Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, the most decorated team in USA Luge history, will have their Olympic hopes hinge on a race-off against Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall. The winner of that race will join Christian Niccum and Dan Joye on the Vancouver-bound team.
Depending on weather, the race-offs will take place either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Germany's Tatjana Hufner won Sunday's women's race, catching Hamlin on the second run. Another German, Natalie Geisenberger, took the silver medal.
"We know that Erin is very good so that her good times are no surprise," Geisenberger said. "Tatjana and me only wanted to attack in second run and we are happy that it worked."
Although it seemed merely like a formality, Benshoof locked up his trip to Vancouver with a ninth-place finish, finishing 1.043 seconds behind Russian winner and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Albert Demtschenko.
Two-time reigning Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler of Italy was second and Felix Loch of Germany took third in the men's competition.
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