February 13, 2015

U.S. luger Erin Hamlin picked the wrong time for a slump.

Although she's ranked sixth overall in the World Cup standings, Hamlin won't have the luxury of a good starting spot heading into this weekend's Luge World Championships at Sigulda, Latvia.

A rocky time in the past three World Cup events relegated her to no better than 13th for Saturday's race. Hamlin, from Remsen, New York, had finishes of 11th, 22nd and 10th for that segment of the season to drop out of the top 12, forcing her to slide in preliminaries on Friday to determine her seed.

German star Natalie Geisenberger, winner of seven of nine races this season and the reigning Olympic women's champion, is the top seed.

''I picked a really horrible time to fall out of it (seedings). That's a bummer,'' Hamlin said. ''But I'm going to be optimistic and positive about it.''

Twenty one nations from three continents have registered to compete in the 45th world championships. A total of 106 sleds have been entered, 42 in men's singles, 40 in women's singles, and 24 in doubles. Twelve relay teams will compete in the final race that closes the competition on Sunday.

Six years ago, Hamlin stunned the sport on her home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg outside Lake Placid, capturing the gold in women's singles at worlds. Her triumph ended the 99-race winning streak of the German women's team.

Until Hamlin beat Geisenberger for the gold, the German women had been as dominant a force as any dynasty in any sport. They hadn't lost a luge race since Nov. 29, 1997, at Koenigssee, Germany. Hamlin also took the bronze at Sochi last year, the first-ever singles medal in the Winter Olympics for the U.S. team, which won silver and bronze in doubles in 1998 at Nagano, Japan and again in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

The one-year anniversary of Hamlin's Olympic bronze was Wednesday, and it was on her mind as she prepared for worlds.

''I've thought of it, but it doesn't really change anything now,'' Hamlin said this week on a conference call. ''It's a whole new ballgame. I'm looking forward to racing. It's nice to kind of kick it back into competition gear.''

The U.S. team has won 12 medals in World Cup this season, one off the team record set in 1996-97 with two more races after worlds.

Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, New York, has had a breakthrough year with a hand in half those medals, which were won in singles, sprint and team relay. Nineteen-year-old Tucker West, a student at Union College in Schenectady, New York, has captured three medals for the U.S., including a World Cup win at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

''The team has had one of its best seasons since I've been a part of the national team,'' said 29-year-old Julia Clukey, of Augusta, Maine. ''We can help each other at the track, help each other with the equipment. When you have strong sliders, that benefits everyone.''

Two-time Olympic champion Felix Loch of Germany, who has five wins in nine World Cup events this season, is the top seed in men's singles and is seeking to win his fifth world championship since 2008.

At worlds, USA Luge has won two singles medals - Hamlin's and Wendel Suckow's gold in the men's race at Calgary in 1993 - and two silver and six bronze in doubles.

''I think the team overall has a pretty positive outlook going,'' said 21-year-old Emily Sweeney of Suffield, Connecticut, ninth overall in the World Cup standings. ''We have had some success.''

And a week of training to get accustomed to the tricky track.

''Sigulda is like the monster in your bed,'' Hamlin said. ''Sometimes, it might come out and get you, and sometimes it doesn't. So far this week, it's been pretty friendly, knock on wood.''

Summer Britcher, a 2014 Olympian from Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, rounds out the U.S. women's squad. Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, New York, and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pennsylvania, will compete together in doubles.

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