Faster and bigger US lugers on track for worlds in Austria

Erin Hamlin seemed a bit taken aback this week when someone pointed out that eight years have passed since she pulled off a stunning victory at the world luge championships.

Time flies.

These days, so do the U.S. lugers.

No longer also-rans in the sliding world, USA Luge sliders have consistently been among medal winners over the past of couple seasons on the World Cup circuit. The biggest races of the season - the world championships - start Friday in Innsbruck, Austria, and the Americans enter this weekend hoping another breakthrough moment like Hamlin's win in 2009 comes again.

''It's pretty crazy. I hadn't really thought of that,'' Hamlin said. ''A lot has happened since then. ... I don't necessarily lean on past good results to get me back on the podium, but it's a fun memory to kind of take into the race. It's a whole different ballgame.''

The sprint world championship is Friday, the women's and doubles races are Saturday, and the men's race along with the team relay are Sunday. As always, Germany - which has more medals in world championship races than every other competing nation does combined - is among the favorites in each event, but the U.S. is entering with plenty of legitimate hope as well.

Hamlin and Emily Sweeney are ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in this season's World Cup points standings. Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman are No. 3 in the doubles standings, Tucker West is No. 5 in the men's points chase and Chris Mazdzer was one spot from the medals in two events at last season's world championships.

''The team as a whole, it's snowballing,'' West said. ''Everyone is getting bigger, stronger, faster, more confident, more experienced. We just want to continue that into 2018 and hopefully land on an Olympic podium.''

Landing on a podium at worlds this weekend would be a good sign.

Other than Wendel Suckow's gold in 1993 and Hamlin's gold in 2009, the Americans have no other individual medals at a world championships. There's been some team medals over the years, and eight doubles medals between 1995 and 2009, but nothing since then at worlds. Hamlin won Olympic bronze at Sochi in 2014, though, and that's proven to be a boost for the entire U.S. squad over the last two seasons.

Hamlin has had success in Innsbruck in the past, and thinks she's finally getting into a consistent groove again.

''It's going to be a really close race,'' Hamlin said. ''They always are here. So every little tiny bit counts.''

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, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.