Erin Hamlin gets ready to start during World Cup #9 in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Feb. 23. All photos: Jan Katzoff
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Erin Hamlin led the American effort Saturday on the 2014 Sochi Olympic track, placing seventh in the World Cup women’s singles race. It is part of the official christening of the course for next February’s Winter Games.
Although she surrendered time at the start, Hamlin, a member of the 2006 and 2010 Olympic teams wrapped around her 2009 world title, showed superior driving skills on a track that has three uphill sections and, as a result, can prove difficult sustaining speed.
In warm and rainy conditions 37 miles east of the Black Sea, the Remsen, N.Y. racer put down two runs totaling 1 minute, 42.662 seconds. She finished 0.74 of a second from winner Tatyana Huefner, of Germany.
"I’m really happy with both runs, but there’s still time to be gained there," Hamlin said. "They were two of my better runs all week. So I’m happy with that.
"The start of both runs wasn’t so great. My entrance into the start curve was similar in both. They were not ideal. But overall I was happy with the week. I learned a lot and know where I have to improve to get faster."
One way Hamlin, and the rest of the field, will speed up is with a return to winter weather. Although the track was much faster than the November training conditions that welcomed the world’s best lugers, the region is nick-named the Russian Riviera for a reason.
In addition to wintry weather, some more training runs could be revealing.
"There are some characteristics in the track that if you figure them out, you can gain a lot of time," continued Hamlin. "You’ve got to have the perfect run and relax while doing so. It’ll definitely be close racing (in the Olympics) and you can’t make any mistakes."
Julia Clukey at the start of her race on the 2014 Olympic track
Teammate Julia Clukey took 10th place in 1:42.902. The 2010 Olympian and winner of a pair of World Cup silver medals two weeks ago in Lake Placid, had the opposite experience from Hamlin. After losing a day of training due to weather problems on the east coast, Clukey opened her runs with typically fast starts that put her right next to Germany. The Augusta, Maine luger, however, lost ground going down the Sochi track.
"I could have used those extra three runs," Clukey chuckled. "I struggled all week with the middle of the track. We can hope for a miracle on race day, but with the training runs I had, I was happy with my 10th place finish."
The mid-section of the Sanki layout - curves six through 10 - is significant as several uphill sections await.
"If you don’t have speed going into the bottom of the track you are just going to bleed time, and that’s what happened," she continued. "I have to do some more work to find my rhythm here. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s moving in the right direction. I think this can be a good track for me. I can be in the mix once I figure everything out."
Clukey completed the season sixth in World Cup points with 392. Hamlin was seventh with 373.
German women swept the podium and collected four of the top five places, led by Huefner, the defending Olympic champion. In a tight battle, she used the final heat to overturn a 0.001 of a second deficit against 2013 World Champion and World Cup overall winner Natalie Geisenberger.
In a season in which she was slowed by back problems, Huefner’s victory on the final weekend of the World Cup season was her only win of the campaign after several seasons of domination.
Her two attempts totaled 1:41.922. The triumph left her third in the final tour standings with 561 points despite missing a competition in mid-season. Geisenberger’s dream season concluded with the silver medal time of 1:41.960. With six gold medals and three silvers in nine events, she piled up 855 World Cup points and actually clinched the crown earlier this winter. Anke Wischnewski, third Saturday in 1:42.228, was runner-up to Geisenberger with 655 points.
Kate Hansen gets focused at the start of the Sochi pre-Olympic test race/World Cup
Kate Hansen, of La Canada, Calif. was 17th in 1:43.504. Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., who injured an ankle at the Sanki Sliding Center in November but has since recovered, had a final time of 1:53.020 after getting sideways in a curve and crossing the finish line head first with her sled.
Emily Sweeney gets a pat on the back from coach Bill Tavares
Hansen and Sweeney, 2008 and 2013 Junior World Champions, respectively, concluded the year tied for 20th place overall with 185 World Cup points.
Despite a sloppy final heat, Germans Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt collected their seventh World Cup doubles win in nine starts. The 2013 World Champions gained the overall season championship in January after winning five straight races and distancing themselves from the field.
Wendl and Arlt registered a combined time of 1:42.087. Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler rallied from fifth place to the silver medal in 1:42.221. The Sics brothers, of Latvia, took a bronze medal Saturday in 1:42.243. This marked the return to the podium for Andris and Juris, who had not medaled since the 2011 World Championships due to injury.
The U.S. was paced by the youthful team of Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa. in 11th place in 1:42.949, two weeks after their high water mark of eighth on home ice. Sochi ended their first full World Cup season.
The Sochi pre-Olympic event marked the return of two-time Olympian Christian Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash. and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa. Surgeries to Niccum’s back and Achilles delayed the season debut for the doubles team that had only been on ice 10 days prior to this week. They were 12th in 1:43.095.
Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall in the finish area during the Feb. 23 Luge World Cup in Krasnaya Polyana
Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah placed 17th in 1:43.692.
On the season, Wendl and Arlt accrued 827 World Cup points, followed by compatriots Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken with 628. The Penz-Fischler duo claimed third with 610. Eggert and Benecken were 13th on the final day of the season despite posting the fastest second heat.
Mortensen and Griffall wound up 10th with 289; Hyrns and Sherk were 13th with 256. Niccum and Terdiman’s one race finish placed them 35th in the season long results.
The 2012-2013 World Cup season concludes Sunday with men’s singles and the team relay. Action begins at 4:40 AM Eastern Time.
For live timing and scoring, please click here.
Erin Hamlin interview
Julia Clukey interview