- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Erin Hamlin expected an Olympic medal four years ago, and came up empty.

This time around, she expected nothing.

Lowering expectations, it turns out, raised her game.

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“Who knew?” she said.

Hamlin won the bronze medal in women’s luge Tuesday night at the Sochi Olympics, touching off a wild celebration among family and friends in the Russian mountains and a raucous party home in Remsen, N.Y. It’s a place where hundreds of people — about half the town, it would appear — huddled around televisions streaming the online feed of her history making run down the track at the Sanki Sliding Center.

Natalie Geisenberger of Germany smiles to after finishing her final run to win the gold medal during the women's singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Natalie Geisenberger of Germany smiles to after finishing her final run to ... more >

“This time, I was like, ‘You know what? I won worlds before, I’ve had podium (finishes) and it would be amazing to get on, but if I have four solid runs — which until today I never had in the Olympics — I would be happy with it,’” Hamlin said.

“I just really wanted to enjoy the experience and really take it all in,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know if I’ll be back again, so it’s great to be able to do that. I really came in with no expectations.”

Neither, it would be fair to say, did USA Luge. Four times in the past, USA Luge has sent a doubles teams to the Olympic podium. But no American had ever won an Olympic singles medal in the sport. Not until Hamlin delivered her bronze on Tuesday.

“It’s nice to break the streak,” said Tony Benshoof, one of three U.S. lugers to finish fourth in a previous Olympics, until now the best showing for an American singles competitor. “I’ve always known that Erin could get on the podium. It just hadn’t happened yet.”

At the Turin Games as a wide-eyed teen, Hamlin finished 12th. Four years later in Vancouver, a year removed from winning the world championship, she was 16th after never figuring out how to deal with the tricky start ramp sliders were forced to use following the death of a men’s competitor.

Now, she’s an Olympic medalist. And yes, to the Hamlin clan, third place at the Olympics seemed like a whole lot bigger victory than winning the world title.

“For her, yes, it is,” said Eileen Hamlin, her mother.

When Hamlin won the world title the big perk was getting 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. Wimp no more.

And the perks this time? Who knows. She’s getting picked up by the U.S. Olympic Committee on Wednesday morning for a media tour, and it’ll last a good while.

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