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Luger Erin Hamlin Plans To Have Fun During Her 4th Olympics

Feb 6, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 1:02 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a lot of heavy stuff hanging over the Winter Olympics in South Korea. There are the complicated politics on the Korean Peninsula, the doping scandal that disqualified some Russian athletes. But for many of the athletes, those stories are just background noise. Instead, they are focusing on making their dreams come true and having a little fun while they do it. Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio has this profile of American athlete Erin Hamlin.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Erin Hamlin's life changed in crazy ways four years ago at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. She's a luge racer, rifling down an icy sled track feet first at 90 miles an hour. She banks hard at roughly the speed a major league pitcher throws a fastball. Lugers don't usually get much attention. It's just not a big sport in the U.S. - no big money, no huge endorsements. But in Sochi, Hamlin was fast enough to win bronze, the first time ever an American luger reached an Olympic podium.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Remsen's own Erin Hamlin!

(CHEERING)

MANN: When she returned to her hometown, Remsen, N.Y., Hamlin was a hero. She stood before a huge crowd in the high school gym.

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ERIN HAMLIN: I can't imagine a better group of people to come home and share this with.

MANN: It's easy to forget how much this part of the Winter Olympics still resonates.

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MANN: Four years ago, while Hamlin was being honored with a hometown parade, we talked with two sixth grade girls, Kristen Waterbury and Sidney Boucher.

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KRISTEN WATERBURY: She blows all of us away with getting a bronze.

SIDNEY BOUCHER: It makes you dream so far. It makes you want to get your goals. It makes you want to exceed everything you've dreamed for.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Track is clear for the finish to start three for Erin.

MANN: In the years since, Hamlin kept winning, capturing a gold and a silver at world championships just last year. She also helped grow and deepen the U.S. luge team. They're serious contenders now.

HAMLIN: Because of the medal from Sochi and the success that our team's had over the last four years - I think will give us high standards for this games.

MANN: On this training day in Lake Placid, N.Y., her home track, Hamlin scorches past, banking high on the curved ice.

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MANN: Hamlin is 31 now, going into her fourth and final Olympics. She says she'll retire after these games; it's time to do something else. This chapter of her life has been a blast, but it's also been complicated. During her 16-year run, the Olympics have faced growing controversy and scandal. These days, it's hard to even find cities willing to host the Winter Games. Hamlin talked to reporters about the gritty aspects of the games ahead of a World Cup race in Latvia.

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HAMLIN: ...Big politics that have come to play and the big business that has kind of, in a way, taken over - and I think a lot of the storylines get kind of taken away from the athletes and the amazing performances at the games and leading up to them.

MANN: Hamlin says this is part of the focus she works to maintain as she heads to Pyeongchang - not just her discipline on the sled, but her way of seeing the Olympics themselves, her way of thinking about those people back home in Remsen.

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HAMLIN: Within our athlete community, we still hold the Olympic ideal pretty highly, and that's what we live for. We still are representing our country as best we can, and we take a lot of pride in that.

MANN: Hamlin says, yeah, she wants another medal - maybe gold, this time. But fighting to get to the podium is only part of the adventure. Another thing people lose sight of, she says, is just how fun this is - just going to the Olympics, racing against the fastest sledders on a track made of glittering ice with the whole world watching. Brian Mann, NPR News.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we say that Erin Hamlin's medal in Sochi marked the first time an American luger reached an Olympic podium. In fact, while she is the first U.S. singles luger to win a medal, there have been U.S. doubles lugers who have won medals.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.