US luge team heads back to World Cup with momentum

With seven medals so far, USA Luge is enjoying one of its best World Cup seasons in nearly a decade.

And to think, this one isn't even half over.

For the first time in a long time, there's serious reason for optimism when it comes to the American luge program: Tucker West, Chris Mazdzer and Erin Hamlin have all won two singles World Cup medals this season; the U.S. remains a threat in the team relay; and the long-struggling doubles program is showing signs of growth.

There might be a simple explanation.

''Success kind of snowballs,'' West said.

In fairness, there's much more to it than that.

A deeper commitment to research and sled development in recent years started paying big dividends last winter, when Hamlin won a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics. And this World Cup has blown away most reasonable expectations for the Americans, with West winning a men's race at Lake Placid, New York; Chris Mazdzer winning a sprint race at Calgary, Alberta; and Hamlin already picking up two silvers this winter.

So when the holiday break on the international luge circuit ends Friday with the start of a World Cup weekend in Koenigssee, Germany, the Americans will actually be entering with a bit of momentum.

''I think we're moving in the right direction, but I don't want to speak too soon,'' U.S. women's luger Emily Sweeney said. ''We've had a lot of success (so far). But we also really haven't been on their turf yet.''

She's speaking of the Germans. They are tough to beat anywhere, especially Germany, where sliding sports are serious business.

With the next three World Cup weekends to take place there and six World Cup meets left on the schedule, the U.S. understands that the looming challenge is a daunting one.

The only part of the early U.S. success that might not be surprising so far is the results posted by Hamlin, who won the bronze medal last winter at the Sochi Olympics. Even though she's a former world champion, that Olympic moment helped her come into this season more confident and clearly more relaxed.

That doesn't mean her fire has gone out. Far from it, actually.

''I don't want to make it sound like I didn't enjoy sliding before because I definitely did,'' Hamlin said. ''I still want to do well. I'm still super competitive. I'm not going to go through the motions because I have an Olympic medal.''

That medal proved inspirational for others, too.

Sweeney was so distraught over not qualifying for last year's Olympics that she didn't even want to watch the competition. But when it became evident that Hamlin - her friend, roommate and someone considered family - was going to medal, Sweeney gave in and watched.

Later, Sweeney was shopping when Hamlin video-called her phone.

''And I screamed like a little girl,'' Sweeney said, ''in the middle of Gap.''

Maybe, as West said, success kind of snowballs.

''A lot of things are falling into place at the right time,'' West said. ''Hopefully we'll keep up this speed the rest of the season.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.