Two-time U.S. Olympian Erin Hamlin is the first American woman to win a luge world championship
Two-time U.S. Olympian Erin Hamlin is the first American woman to win a luge world championship

Two-time U.S. Olympian Erin Hamlin is the first American woman to win a luge world championship.  In Vancouver, she is attempting to become the first U.S. woman to win a luge Olympic medal.  VOA profiles the 23-year-old Hamlin, who is considered the best hope the United States has for a luge podium finish at the 2010 Winter Games.

Last year, Erin Hamlin did something that no American has ever done.  She broke the powerhouse Germans' luge winning streak at 99 international victories to win a World Championship on her home track in Lake Placid, New York - the site of the 1980 Olympics.  She is the first non-German since 1993 to win a world title.  

Heading into the 2009 World Championships the Germans had won 19 of the last 20 world titles.

Hamlin says that while some of the German racers were devastated and stunned by her victory, others cheered and offered their congratulations.   

"Granted, their team didn't win, but at the same time they understand this is going to be great for the sport and brings a new perspective," Hamlin said. "It makes things a little bit more interesting."

Perhaps with that in mind, Hamlin says she thinks that her gold medal achievement last year will be on minds of the German racers in Vancouver.  

"I don't think that before, they ever really cared to think twice, but now I think they have to reclaim their rightful spot," Hamlin said. "The German women have had that streak for so long, but not having them up there, not having to hear the German [national] anthem again, was awesome."  

Erin Hamlin finished the 2010 World Cup season in fourth place with two bronze medals.  She was behind the top three Germans - Anke Wischnewski, Natalie Geisenberger, and number one Tatjana Huefner who is a two time former world champion and reigning 2006 olympic bronze medalist.

All four women are considered medal contenders in Vancouver, however Germany is favored because it has won seven of the last 10 Olympic gold medals.

In late January, Hamlin won the silver medal behind Huefner at the Challenge Cup competition on the Turin Olympic track in Cesana, Italy.  Geisenberger was third.  The event is for the best 10 luge racers-- or sliders -- from the World Cup standings, with no more than two athletes per nation competing.

But every track is different, and Hamlin says speed is what sets Vancouver's Whistler Olympic track apart from others.  

"The technical parts of how it's built, and the elevation drop," Hamlin said.  "Some of the curves are bigger where you can pick up a lot of speed, and then you get to the bottom and it's just fast."  

How fast?

"We go around right around 90 miles an hour (144 kph), the men 95 (152 kph).  And for the Olympics I'm sure it will creep a little faster," Hamlin said.   

Erin Hamlin is from the town of Remsen in upstate New York, where winter sports are popular. She first started sliding at the age of 12.   She says she had to work hard to learn the technical aspects of the sport such as steering, but she liked the challenge, and that is what kept her interested.

After her 2009 victory at Lake Placid, a local ice cream shop in Remsen, The Soda Fountain, celebrated Hamlin's gold medal success by naming a dessert after her.  The World Champion Erin Hamlin Sundae, consists of vanilla ice cream mixed with Reese's peanut butter cups and Oreo cookies, with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Ice cream confections aside, it is conquering a tough course that gives Hamlin a certain satisfaction.

"When a track challenges you, it makes it that much more fulfilling when you can get to the bottom and feel like that was really good," Hamlin said.

And don't forget going fast.  Whistler Olympic-track fast.  Erin Hamlin aims to slide her way to a sweet medal finish in Vancouver.