Above: Erin Hamlin sliding in Whistler during the 2013 Luge World Championships. AP Photo
WHISTLER, British Columbia - The United States women’s luge team now has two veteran contenders-Erin Hamlin and Julia Clukey-that go to the handles for the start of every race, accompanied by two Junior World Champions in Kate Hansen and Emily Sweeney that are indicating movement toward the A seed of racers.
On the final night of the World Championships at Whistler, Hamlin, who won this title in 2009, and Clukey, as high as fifth in the same event, raced into the top 10. After placing sixth and ninth, respectively late Saturday afternoon, Hamlin and Clukey are now trying to shave the remaining hundredths and thousandths of a second that will enable them to nudge alongside Germans Natalie Geisenberger and Tatyana Huefner.
Germany’s finest grabbed gold and silver, respectively, with Canadian Alex Gough, whose coach is a former member of the German national team staff, taking the bronze medal on her home track.
The Germans later returned and won gold in the team relay. They finished with eight medals, among them gold medals in all four competitions, along with three silver medals and one bronze.
Canada, with a women’s bronze medal and silver in the team relay, was next best. Austria and Latvia left the Whistler Sliding Center with one medal each. The United States placed fifth in the team relay, just 0.012 of a second from the bronze medal.
In Hamlin’s two singles runs, the two-time Olympian gave ground to the opposition at the start, then picked up gulps of time, improving 10 places in the opening heat from top to bottom. She landed in fifth position. Her second run was virtually the same story.
"My first run was fine," replayed Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y. "I got a little bit behind. But it wasn’t too tragic. So it ended up okay. My second run wasn’t so great. I made small mistakes that cost me time at the bottom. I was hoping to go a little bit faster. But overall the runs were good and the training was consistent."
Clukey, on the other hand, has a fast start that is reliable every time down the course, and among the tour’s best. But that was mitigated Saturday by a virus that found her this week.
"Earlier I was pulling (faster times), then I got hit with some kind of stomach problem and I haven’t bounced back," said the Augusta, Maine luger from the Vancouver airport, awaiting a red-eye back east. "That was disappointing. The runs were decent, but it was small things. I knew it would be tight racing. It’s still a top 10 finish, but for myself and my personal goals, I’m disappointed with my performance tonight."
Nevertheless, the 2010 Olympian picked up two places in the final leg. She was 11th at the break.
Geisenberger, Olympic bronze medalist here three years ago when Huefner won the gold, has ridden shotgun to her teammate as Huefner has captured world titles and World Cup championships since 2010. But not this year, as Geisenberger grabbed five World Cup gold and two silver medals in seven races before this crowning achievement.
The winner completed the two short women’s runs in times of 36.688 and 36.740 seconds for a total time of 1 minute, 13.428 seconds. Huefner, the 2012 World Champion, followed in 1:13.534, with Gough next in 1:13.546. It was her second World Championship bronze in the past three years.
Hamlin’s time was 1:13.856, while Clukey posted 1:13.984.
Hansen, the 2008 Junior World Champion from La Canada, Calif., was 14th in 1:14.092, but took fifth place in the Under 23 World Championship. Sweeney, the recently crowned 2013 Junior World Champion, missed the top 20. Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn. placed 22nd based on her first run time.
Germany stacked its’ lineup in the team relay with singles gold medalists Geisenberger and Felix Loch, and doubles champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt. Their collective time of 2:03.826 bested Canada by 0.44. Gough led the crew to a final time of 2:04.272. Latvia’s entry included the brother tandem of Andris and Juris Sics, Olympic bronze medal winners here three years ago. They left with relay bronze in 2:04.854.
Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y. who was a career best sixth in singles Friday night, and the doubles sled of Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah were fifth in 2:04.866.
"The relay result was pretty painful," admitted Hamlin. "All of us had pretty decent runs. If you get off line at the bottom you lose that opportunity to pick up a lot of speed. We all had pretty clean runs. It would have been nice to have that little extra time."
On Saturday, Universal Sports ended its two-days of coverage of the 2013 World Championships. Included in these broadcasts were the first-ever live races shown in the U.S.
Complete women’s results
Complete team relay results
Julia Clukey interview
Erin Hamlin interview