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Hamlin rises once again

Remsen native brings home second world championships gold

January 27, 2017
By TIM REYNOLDS - AP Sports Writer , Lake Placid News

When Erin Hamlin won her first world luge championship, someone in her bursting-with-pride hometown decided it would be fitting to name an ice cream sundae in her honor.

Memo to the residents of Remsen: It's time for another tribute.

Hamlin is now a two-time world champion, after taking the women's sprint crown Friday on the track in Igls, Austria, just outside Innsbruck. It's the third world title in USA Luge history, the first in Europe, and the first gold for the Americans in a world championships race since Hamlin prevailed on her home track at Lake Placid in 2009.

Article Photos

Erin Hamlin, of Remsen, stands in the gold-medal position between Switzerland’s Martina Kocher, left, and Tatjana Huefner of Germany following Friday’s luge sprint world championship race in Igls, Austria.
(Photo courtesy of International Luge Federation/Wolfgang Harder)

"It's nice to be able to still come to a race, a big race, and be able to perform when it's needed," Hamlin said. "Especially when I've been training well and I've been sliding well, to have that reflected in my results ... to race as well as you train, I'm happy."

Hamlin prevailed in 30.074 seconds, a mere 0.009 seconds better than Switzerland's Martina Kocher. Germany's Tatjana Huefner was third, another 0.001 seconds back, and Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Connecticut was fourth.

The sprint is a race with a flying start, with the clock starting once sliders complete 100 meters and have built some speed. Hamlin has won World Cup sprint events in the past, but even after a strong week of training she was hardly expecting a gold medal Friday. She became the second woman to win golds eight years apart at a world championships, joining German legend Susi Erdmann.

"It was definitely a surprise," Hamlin said. "Pretty stoked about it."

There were some comforts of home for Hamlin, even half a world away.

Hamlin's parents, Ron and Eileen, have followed her all over the world for the better part of the last 20 years. They were there in Lake Placid when she won the world title in 2009, trackside in Russia when she got Olympic bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games - but never made their way to the track in Austria until this week.

Good timing, indeed.

"It's pretty awesome," Hamlin said. "It's pretty cool. You only live once, make the most of it, and they totally have that mindset, 100 percent. I'm not going to be doing this forever, so they're taking advantage while they can."

There was no all-night celebration planned; Hamlin still has more sliding to do this weekend, with the women's race today and the team relay Sunday.

Knowing that she's going home with at least one medal - especially a gold one - removes the pressure for the rest of the weekend. And the realization that, at minimum, she'll be introduced as a two-time world champion going forward was quickly setting in Friday.

"A couple of people have brought it up and it's crazy - very crazy," Hamlin said. "I've already gotten labels that I never thought I would. It's kind of the cherry on top, the icing on the cake. It's pretty cool."


Men's sprints

Wolfgang Kindl, on his home track, dominated training sessions and then won his first world title in the men's sprint. In recent years, the 2008 World Junior Champion has become a World Cup medal machine. Leading up to Igls, Kindl has six podiums to his credit in nine starts.

While some of the racers had issues exiting curve nine, Kindl's sled looked like it was on rails and he was just along for the ride. Such was the nature of his calm sliding demeanor.

The gold medalist, who had the second fastest qualifying time to Italian Dominik Fischnaller, crossed the finish line in 32.467. Roman Repilov, of Russia, added to his breakout season with the silver medal in 32.479, followed by Fischnaller in 32.590.

Germany was conspicuous by its absence as all three struggled. The best was Andi Langenhan in sixth place, followed by double Olympic gold medal winner Felix Loch in 10th.

Repilov's teammate and 2015 World Champion, Semen Pavlichenko, placed fourth, with Morris, in the run of his life, fifth in 32.611 and within reach of his first podium result.

"As an athlete, in your heart of hearts you always want that," said American Taylor Morris, who recorded a career-best fifth place finish. "I wasn't honestly sure. I came down and saw number one and was hoping I could hang on to it for a while. I was up there (leader's box) a whole lot longer than I expected.

"When it came down to the final five sleds I was thinking it's possible. Somebody could mess up. Anything is possible in the sprint race. With it being such a tight race, any little mistake, especially at the top, was going to be a big one for us. I was just really ecstatic to be up there and be a part of it all."

Sochi Olympian and three-time World Cup winner Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, was 14th in 32.791.

Two-time Olympian Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, and World Cup rookie Jonny Gustafson, a Massena, native who was competing in his first world championships, did not qualify for the field of 15.

The sprint format offered up a change in the script that was written over the past two World Cup seasons. In 2016-2017, Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken have won seven of nine races to date, with teammates Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt taking the remaining gold medals. But in the majors - Olympics and World Championships - the Tobis have dominated.

It was that way in the sprint doubles race, with Wendl and Arlt winning by a "lopsided" tenth of a second, while the two earlier events split hairs.

The top American sled of Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania, tied for seventh place. An early mistake cost the third place World Cup team a chance at the podium.

The gold medalists clocked 29.843, while Eggert Benecken settled for the bronze medal in 29.956. The team that came between them, Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler, almost didn't compete.

Fischer recently was diagnosed with myocarditis, causing the twosome to miss a pair of World Cups. The 31-year-old Fischler was only cleared to race last week.

Their run started poorly as Penz' right leg slipped off the runner. Shortly thereafter, they hugged the start curve too much and kissed off the opposite wall.

Despite the errors, Penz and Fischler stayed calm and used track knowledge to recoup the loss and slid to the silver medal in 29.949.

Mortensen and Terdiman were timed in 30.058.

The second USA Luge sled in the field raced to 11th place. Justin Krewson, a Lake Placid Volunteer Fireman, and Andrew Sherk registered 30.181.

The American team of Jake Hyrns and Anthony Espinoza did not qualify in the morning. However, they and their teammates will get another chance in today's world championship doubles race. The event follows the women's singles, which opens the second day of competition at 4 a.m. EST.


Member of 1st US Olympic luge team dies at 78

LAKE PLACID - USA Luge was saddened this week to learn of the unexpected death of Tom Neely, a member of the first Olympic luge team at the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck/Igls, Austria.

Robert Thomas Neely, of Ketchum, Idaho, attended George Washington University and was 78 years of age when he passed away on Jan. 18.

In a chilling coincidence, USA Luge and 26 other nations are currently at an updated Igls venue for the 47th International Luge Federation world championships this weekend.

Neely and his teammates were all members of the U.S. Armed Forces, serving in Germany. They competed in European races in the seasons prior to the Innsbruck Games. Luge entered the Olympic program in 1964.

Private First Class Neely, 25 years of age when he raced in Igls, finished 17th in the singles event that was conducted over four runs.

"Tom and I trained together for the two years leading up to the Games and had one of the best friend/competitor relationships imaginable," said Bud Feltman, a 1964 Olympic teammate of Neely's. "Tom's passing brought such a flood of special memories and tears. He'll be missed, but all those special memories make me smile."

Neely's list of firsts didn't stop at those Innsbruck Olympic Games. At the time of his death, he was living in Sun Valley, Idaho where he was an instructor at the country's first ski resort. He and Feltman remained friends and coworkers for many years, enjoying hunting and fishing trips in their free time.

"I first met Tom while he was trying out for the ski patrol at the U.S. Armed Forces Recreation Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in 1961 while I was scouting for potential lugers within the U.S. Armed Forces for the 1964 Olympic Luge Team," said V.H. Bob Cole, 1964 Olympic team coach. "I shall miss Tom, as will his friends and teammates from the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team that brought the sport of luge into the Olympic Winter Games."

Memorial services will be held later in the spring, arranged though Wood River Chapel Hailey, Idaho.



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