Erin Hamlin is going to the Olympics for the fourth and final time. Emily Sweeney is now a World Cup gold medalist. Summer Britcher won two medals in the span of about an hour.
The three top American women’s luge athletes all had things to celebrate on Sunday in Winterberg, Germany. Sweeney and Britcher finished first and second in a sprint race, Britcher took third in the women’s singles event and Hamlin officially clinched her spot on the U.S. Olympic Team with a fourth-place singles finish.
“I could not be happier,” said Hamlin, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world champion who will retire after this season — confirming her long-awaited decision after clinching the Olympic spot.
The gold-silver sprint finish by Sweeney and Britcher was the best showing by USA Luge in any singles race on a European track. The U.S. has taken two medals in races before, and Hamlin, Sweeney and Britcher swept the podium at a World Cup in Lake Placid, New York, two seasons ago, but American women never had a day like this across the Atlantic until now.
Sweeney had her standard huge, megawatt-bright smile on the podium after the sprint victory. Her mind, though, was still processing what happened earlier Sunday in the singles race — when she had a chance to virtually clinch her first Olympic berth but struggled in the second run and finished eighth.
She’s still likely to make the team. But until it happens, she’ll feel the pressure.
“Our team is very capable of coming back with hardware from the games and that’s the goal this year,” Sweeney said. “It’s not to have these little wins — which is great, and I am excited, and I know that I should feel very grateful. I am very grateful for that opportunity to be on top of the podium. Not everyone gets that opportunity. I’m just blinded by what my goal is this season, I think.”
Hamlin going to the Olympics was expected and the clinching — while significant — was little more than a formality. So, too, was her announcement that this season will be the end of her career.
“I can now officially, officially, tell everybody that I’m done, done,” Hamlin said.
Sweeney had four World Cup medals before Sunday, all of them silver, one of them coming in a relay. Britcher had six medals, all of them coming in North America. But now Sweeney has a win on her resume, and Britcher went from possessing zero World Cup medals from races on European tracks to winning two in the span of about an hour.
And in the sprint, they both beat German star Natalie Geisenberger — the overwhelming favorite for Olympic gold, and a winner now of 105 overall medals in her World Cup career between singles and relay events.
“A good day in Germany is always a great day for racing,” Hamlin said. “We still had a good day even with some disappointing runs. That shows how high the bar is set for us now and how our standards have changed.”
Sweeney went to third in the World Cup overall women’s standings, Britcher — who didn’t even qualify for the opening race of the season — moved up to sixth and Hamlin is ninth. After next weekend’s stop in Altenberg, Germany, the Americans return to familiar North American tracks to close out the first half of the season.
They’ll race in Calgary, Alberta, on the weekend of Dec. 9, then head home to Lake Placid for racing on Dec. 15 and 16. And having familiarity with those tracks means the U.S. should have ample opportunity to further move up the points standings.
“Just like bad things roll downhill, so do good things and good experiences,” Britcher said. “We’re building momentum.”