Farewell luge slides: Erin Hamlin bids adieu to Lake Placid

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) Erin Hamlin started coming to Lake Placid almost 20 years ago, when someone from USA Luge first figured out that the little girl had some potential on a sled.

How right they were.

She would only become the best American singles luger – that’s the general consensus, anyway – as well as a world champion, a World Cup winner and an Olympic medalist. On Saturday, the soon-to-be-retired Hamlin competed in a major international race on her home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg for the final time.

There were no tears, no long farewell. She was all business , as always.

”It was pretty easy just to kind of go through the motions of what I do every other weekend of the season and what I’ve done here multiple times,” Hamlin said after her last day going down the Lake Placid track in a World Cup setting, finishing fourth in a sprint race and sixth in the women’s singles event. ”So, yeah, it was just another race day.”

Hamlin revealed last month, after qualifying for her fourth Olympic team, that this season is her finale. The 31-year-old is getting married next summer, and wants to get on with some semblance of a regular life. She’s still one of the best lugers in the world, even though this season hasn’t brought the results she’s seeking. And when the Pyeongchang Games roll around, Hamlin will certainly be thought of as someone who can find her way to the medal podium again.

Perhaps that’s why she’s not fixating on the farewell season.

There are still some major goals to chase before she packs up the sled for good.

”I can’t say enough good things about her,” USA Luge teammate and 2018 Olympian Emily Sweeney said. ”She has done so many things for our sport. She’s such a great representative of it and also just an amazing friend. I am so lucky to have her in my life. She’s been my roommate for seven years. I’m really sad that I’m going to lose her, but I can only wish her good things and I’m really excited for her.”

USA Luge doesn’t want to lose Hamlin. It also doesn’t want to lose her fan club.

Forget the 23 World Cup medals she’s won, or the two world championship gold medals – one of them from 2009 at Lake Placid – or the Olympic bronze from Sochi four winters ago. Hamlin’s career will be remembered for both what she did on the ice and for all people who would make the trip from her tiny home town of Remsen, New York, up to Mount Van Hoevenberg so many times over the years.

They are Team Hamlin. They’re not a subtle, quiet group. When they’re at a race, everyone knows.

”The atmosphere here is awesome,” Canada’s Alex Gough said, gesturing over to the wildly cheering bunch.

Anyone driving through Lake Placid this weekend had no choice but to see the dozens of Erin Hamlin signs that were stuck into just about every snowbank along the main roads. An Erin Hamlin banner was adorning the balcony at one of the hotels in town. Her fan base all wore pins and waved flags and cheered for everyone – not just Hamlin, not just the American sliders either.

”They have a blast,” Hamlin said. ”They’re the best cheering squad ever. I’m very thankful.”

They are the First Family of luge fandom. They’re adored by all, even the likes of German star Natalie Geisenberger. Medalists in luge races get flowers immediately after the results go final, and it’s not uncommon for Geisenberger to toss her bouquets to the Hamlins in a show of respect that has grown deep over the years.

”Erin is one of my longest competitors,” said Geisenberger, who has raced against Hamlin for more than a decade. ”I’ve known her so long and she is always friendly, always fair. I’ve stood with her on the podium at the Olympics and she was sometimes successful, sometimes not, but she never changed (as) a person. She has a great personality.”

The World Cup season resumes next month after the Christmas break. Hamlin is going to take a few days off from sliding, hoping to come back for the second half recharged for the buildup to Pyeongchang.

And while she acknowledged any Lake Placid race is significant, the farewell tour can wait.

”I kind of forget about it until it’s brought up or something happens,” Hamlin said. ”It’s like, `Oh, it’s your last training run here, it’s your last run there.’ It’s been pretty easy to go through the motions of a normal season. And I’m OK with that.”

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