- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Within hours of becoming the first American to ever win an Olympic singles luge medal, Erin Hamlin got dozens of invitations to go various places, give some speeches, even appear on a game show.

Her new life sounds pretty good so far.

Hamlin and her family partied into the wee hours of Wednesday morning to celebrate her bronze medal in the women’s luge competition, sharing food and stories and a long-awaited Champagne toast or two. After maybe a couple of hours sleep, Team Hamlin got a chauffeured ride into Sochi for a long list of media tours and sponsor appearances.

“Surreal,” Hamlin said. “Still can’t believe this.”

She finished third, which seemed irrelevant. All the spoils of victory were hers, and deservedly so.

“Enjoying it immensely,” her father, Ron Hamlin, said along the route. “We’re soaking it all in right now.”

And this ride might last a while.

Hamlin may be introduced as an Olympic medalist for the rest of her life, something that obviously could prove lucrative for her - as well as for USA Luge, which has long been looking for more money and medals. It’s no secret that the amount of U.S. Olympic Committee funding for various sports is usually contingent on big-race results, and Hamlin’s slide to the Olympic finish line will undoubtedly aid USA Luge’s bottom line.

USA Luge had four Olympic medals before now, all in doubles, two silvers and two bronzes. Hamlin was the 2009 world champion, and five years later, finally gave the U.S. a solo medal on the sport’s biggest stage.

Hamlin hoped the attention she’s getting will likely bring new eyeballs to the sport, since she’s said that’s something luge needs. So far, success on that front - USA Luge officials said they were combing through hundreds of requests within hours of the medal being won. Just like that, a sport they have tried to sell for so long started to actually sell itself.

“High performance is an important message to send out,” Gordy Sheer, USA Luge’s marketing and sponsorship director and a 1998 doubles Olympic medalist for the U.S., said Wednesday. “High performance gets attention, and especially when we get high performance from athletes like Erin who are great spokespeople and very likable, down to earth and I would say marketable.”

For starters, there’s a $10,000 bonus from the U.S. Olympic Committee for her bronze. Plans are already being made for a grand welcome when she returns to her hometown of Remsen, N.Y. Hamlin already has marketing deals with widely recognized brands like Citi, DeVry and United Airlines. It would surprise no one if more came her way.

Her life changed because she was about a half-second faster than Canada’s Alex Gough and finished third instead of fourth.

“Getting on the podium at the Olympics is pretty much what we all do this for,” Hamlin said. “It definitely has its own luster to it.”

Hamlin’s medal wasn’t a complete surprise, though it wasn’t exactly expected, either. And that was something even she acknowledged in the days before her race.

Plus, even though 27 is hardly old, only five other women have medaled in her sport at a more advanced age. There’s no guarantee she’ll be in Pyeongchang in 2018. But because of what she did in Sochi, those wearing the red, white and blue four years from now will almost certainly have benefitted from what she did on a crisp Russian night.

“Hopefully, it means it gets a little more attention and we get some funding and spread the numbers and get a lot more kids involved going forward,” Hamlin said. “And we just get stronger.”


Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

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