American legend Erin Hamlin nears the end of her long luge journey
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2017, file photo, United States Olympic Winter Games luge hopeful Erin Hamlin poses for a portrait at the 2017 Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah. This is not a gold-medal-or-bust season for USA Luge star Erin Hamlin, who is bidding for a fourth Olympic appearance. She’s getting married next summer and is likely headed toward retirement, but she’s still one of the elite sliders in her sport. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.
It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.
As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success. It's important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she's going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.
"I'm not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust," Hamlin said. "Very likely, it's going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it's going to be a lot of soaking it all in."
That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria. Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luge athlete, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in the overall world rankings.
She might be going out, and there's a chance she can go out on top.
"We're working hard to convince her to stay," her longtime USA Luge teammate Emily Sweeney said.
Sweeney knows that's probably futile. Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it's bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter. A few U.S. sliders have already retired this fall, in part because they weren't going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.
For her part, Hamlin hasn't officially said this is the end.
"There's never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen," Hamlin said. "But at the moment, what I'm excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await."
Hamlin has been in the world's top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner. She's won a World Cup in each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first American to medal in a singles race at the Olympics with a bronze at Sochi in 2014.
There was a lesson to be learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That's one of the reasons why Pyeongchang isn't taking up all the bandwidth in her brain right now.
"That's the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the games," Hamlin said. "How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I'm capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well."
The schedule this season is hectic. This weekend's stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on USA Luge's home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16. When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the Americans will announce their Olympic team for Pyeongchang.
So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality. It will be at her parents' home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.
"Pretty exciting," Hamlin said. "It's definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it's cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding."