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Erin Hamlin looks to better her 2014 bronze in luge

February 9, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - It was a warm October day when U.S. luger Erin Hamlin sat down with the Lake Placid News at the USA Luge headquarters on Church Street for an interview as she prepared for the upcoming World Cup season. It was so warm that USA Luge canceled its practice runs at the Mount Van Hoevenberg track the entire week.

Still, Hamlin - a 31-year-old native of Remsen, New York - remained optimistic about heading to her fourth Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where she is currently practicing for the upcoming competitions. The first two runs for the women's singles event are on Monday, Feb. 12, and the third run, followed by the fourth medal run, begins at 5:30 a.m. Eastern Time (7:30 p.m. Korea Standard Time) on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Since winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Hamlin has had peaks and valleys in subsequent World Cup seasons. Her best year since Sochi was the 2016-2017 season, when she was the 2017 World Championship silver medalist for women's singles, 2017 World champion in the sprint discipline, and a 2017 World Championship silver medalist as the lead leg in the team relay. That year, she was fourth in the overall World Cup standings, the same ranking as the 2015-2016 season. In 2014-2015, she was fifth. This year, she was seventh.

Article Photos

USA Luge athlete Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, competes during the World Cup race in Lake Placid in December 2015.
(News photo — Shaun Kittle)

Her Oct. 19 interview with the News focused more on her equipment than her outlook for the upcoming season.


News: With equipment, what are we talking about specifically?

Hamlin: If we want to say equipment in an umbrella term, it's everything we use going down the tracks: the sled, helmet, race suit, race shoes, everything. But when we're talking about the building of things, generally it's the sled.


News: How many sleds do you use during a year?

Hamlin: I will just use one. I have pretty much a ballpark setup that I have stuck with for a while. Once I find something that I like to ride on that feels comfortable, that works well for me, I generally try and stay pretty close to that same thing. I know I'm fortunate to be able to have a pod that fits me really well because that can be a huge factor in success because if you're not comfortable on the sled, you're not going to go fast.


News: What about the steels?

Hamlin: There are times when we will test a couple different sets of steels. For me, it's generally the steels, maybe the kufens, that we'll switch around. And the reasoning for that is we're trying to find things that run faster on different ice conditions. So on warmer days, when there's more humidity and the ice isn't as ideal for racing, a lot of times our base setup doesn't run as fast. So we have to have a different set of steels maybe and whether they're just shaped different or set up a little different to make it faster on those conditions. The main times for me once we get into the heart of the season, that's the only reason that I would switch.


News: What is the importance of using sandpaper on the steels?

Hamlin: Basically, the steel just on its own is going to have some sort of imperfection in it. Also when we start sliding on a set of steels, you might hit a little grain of sand on the track or just something that nicks them or they get a little, anything, a little scratch on them. Anything that causes extra friction when we are going down, we are timed to the thousandth of a second, so that is going to be detrimental to our finish times. So we are essentially trying to keep as little imperfections on our steels as possible, especially on the edge we are riding on so that it is the least amount of friction. And so that we can go the fastest.


News: Do you inspect your sleds after every run?

Hamlin: Absolutely. We will check our steels after every run. ... It is important for us to check every day so that if we have a significant amount of scratches or anything on our steels we can get them out before we train too much, because it does surprisingly enough, a very small scratch can make a pretty big difference.


News: When you are, for weeks at a time, in Europe on that long stretch and the toolkit is smaller, explain how USA Luge sets up a workshop to work on the sleds?

Hamlin: Usually when we get to a hotel, if it is a bigger hotel, it will either be like a conference room or a garage if they have a nice garage that has power and light and everything. Or a lot of times it will just be an extra room, a hotel room that we clear all of the furniture out of. And that is our sled room. And so that becomes our workshop, where we keep our sleds. ... If we are in a real pinch and somebody breaks an important part of their sled and they need it and it's essential to get it fixed, we can go to another team. If we are in that country, they have their own main workshop. I have never heard of any situation that where a team has been like "no you can't use our workshop." It's a pretty small community of countries and athletes and teams. So generally everyone helps each other out if they are in that situation.


News: Other than the suit, what's the most important part of your uniform?

Hamlin: I would say the next most important is probably our helmet just for the sake of our well-being. We wear our Kevlar helmet. It's obviously made to be protective for us but also very late. When we are going down the track there are some places where we hit up to seven Gs. It's not like you are a pilot that's getting held at that for an extended period of time. It's like a quick hit and then you are out, but at that speed your head is not light and we are holding it up, so it is important that our helmet is very light.


News: How fast do you go down the track?

Hamlin: Every track is different. On average, I would probably say 75, 80 mph.


News: How important are the gloves?

Hamlin: The gloves are pretty essential. The start is the only time we are actually able to accelerate ourselves forward. So getting as much out of that as we can is pretty crucial. ... We tape spikes to our gloves, so kind of think of track spikes but a little different set up. They are a little slimmer, and there are not as many on each finger. And we have those on our gloves and we pull off the handles at the start and paddle on the ice, anywhere from two to seven times, depending on the track. ... I use hockey tape to tape mine on to just any type of glove.

The most common injury in luge is probably spiking yourself. I get a good callous/hole in my hand all season because of when I get in my sled. So you paddle on the ice and getting your sled, but those spikes are still there so when you're holding on you kind of learn how to position your hands so you're not digging in to yourself the whole way down, but I have some good marks on the back of my legs and my hands where they just hit sometimes.


News: Over the past 18 years you've been in the sport of luge, how important has it been to measure things for your sled with different ice conditions, weather and tracks?

Hamlin: Massive. When it comes down to measuring things, the information we can get can be different for every track. ... It takes a lot of trial and error when we get to a track. And at a World Cup, we have six runs before we race, so in order to be able to get there and just get comfortable on the sled, we don't want to waste any time, so having those numbers we have been able to compile, we can easily go there and be like, hey this is what I need to do. This is how I need to adjust my sled. I am good to go. I don't have to waste an entire day of training trying one thing.



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