KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — It happens all the time to Ron and Eileen Hamlin. They go shopping someplace around their home, pull out a credit card and get asked the same question as soon as somebody sees their name.
“Do you know Erin Hamlin?”
Those questions won’t go away anytime soon. Not now. Not after what the pride of Remsen, N.Y. — a little town with no stop lights and where everybody knows everybody else — did Tuesday night.
Hamlin won the bronze medal in women’s luge at the Sochi Olympics, becoming the first USA Luge athlete to ever medal in a singles event at the games.
The fact she was beaten by two Germans almost seemed irrelevant. For Hamlin, for her family and for USA Luge, this was a victory. Her mother insisted it was more significant than her win in the 2009 world championships.
“For her, yes, it is,” Eileen Hamlin said.
Bronze better than gold? In this case, that’s probably right, given what this one might mean for years to come.
“It’s nice to break the streak,” said Tony Benshoof, one of three U.S. lugers to finish fourth in a previous Olympics. “I’ve always known that Erin could get on the podium. It just hadn’t happened yet.
“It’s great for the organization,” he said. “It’s great for her. … She’s kind of a master of high-pressure races. She’s a good closer. After the third run I knew barring some major catastrophe she had it in the bag.”
When Hamlin won the world title five years ago, the crowning achievement was that she had an ice cream sundae named in her honor. It’s still a big seller in Remsen, where she ran track and played soccer and grew up being “a wimp,” she said, whenever her parents wanted her to try something adventurous or daring.
Nowadays, she jumps on a sled and goes 85 mph down a hill. Wimpy, no more.
“It’s going to take a little while to sink in,” Hamlin said. “I was the first American woman to win at worlds, so to be able to do this, I’m hopefully paving the way for future generations of female lugers in the U.S.”
Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger won the race in dominant style, posting a four-run time of 3 minutes, 19.768 seconds. Tatjana Huefner was second, 1.139 seconds off the pace. Hamlin was another 0.236 seconds back.
“She deserves this,” U.S. teammate Summer Britcher said. “Oh, she so deserves this.”
Plenty of people stopped to take notice in central New York on Tuesday morning. “Go Erin” banners were seen in Remsen and at least two other neighboring towns. At least 100 kids — that’s roughly half the school — crammed into the library to watch the live feed of her race.
At the Saranac Brewery in nearby Utica, beers were flowing in her honor by 9:30 a.m. at a watch party.
“Our area is so unique,” said Meghan Fraser, the brewery’s marketing and public relations coordinator. “Not a lot of people know about us and when they do come here, they have a wonderful experience and know it’s a great place to live. We don’t get a lot of praise and Erin has brought so much light to our community. She’s a special part of this community and gives people a reason to know who we are and what we’re all about.”
Hamlin spent more than half her life chasing this moment. At 27, another Olympics isn’t guaranteed. But now she’s a world champion and Olympic medalist, leaving no hole on her resume.
She was 12th at the Turin Games in 2006, then 16th in 2010, a year after winning the world title and thinking she was primed for an Olympic breakthrough. When that race four years ago was over, Hamlin turned to her mother and let her know Sochi was her new goal.
“I don’t want to go out like this,” Hamlin said then.
The payoff was bronze, and for America’s first luge medalist, that was as good as gold.