The Winter Olympics is just hours away (the opening ceremony is Friday night) and W magazine’s Editors’ Blog has been getting into the spirit all week. Tune in tomorrow for our last athlete interview with aerial skier Lacy Schnoor.
Aside from curling, the luge just might be the most random winter Olympic sport out there. So here are a few things you should know about it: The best racers go upwards of 90 miles per hour; they feel, not watch, what they’re doing on the course, and the Germans always win. That is until Erin Hamlin broke their 12-year winning streak when she won the women’s singles event at the 2009 world luge championships. Now the 23-year-old is ranked number one in the U.S. and sixth in the world. As she heads off to her second Olympics (she placed 12th in Torino) Hamlin says she’s going to do what it takes to take to bring home the gold. Note to Germany: watch your back.
How did you get started racing the luge? I was recruited through a USA Luge Sliders search when I was 12. They came to Syracuse and I lived about an hour away. My dad had seen an ad for it and thought it would be something cool to do. It was totally random, on a whim, but I was pretty athletic so I decided to try out. It was a lot of fun and I got chosen to go to a screening camp in Lake Placid. After that I was hooked.
So how can you beat the unstoppable Germans? I’m going to go into it knowing that I’ve slid well before and I can be fast. The track is so fast in Whistler [Vancouver’s resort] that aerodynamics is going to play a huge role. I need to almost go blind for most of the run. It will be tough but you have to do it.
Blind? So you’re not watching the course? Exactly. I mean, I can peek out every once in a while but ideally you want to stay in a flat position and keep your head back.
How do you train? The start is really important. It takes a lot of explosiveness and and upper-body strength because we’re seated and pull off of a set of handles. There are spikes on the fingertips of our gloves that we use to paddle on the ice to propel forward. So having upper body and core strength is key. We’re in the weight room a lot and there’s a lot of balance and agility work also.
What’s the fastest you’ve gone? Right under 90 miles per hour, like 88 or 89. That’s how fast I’ll probably go in Whistler because it’s the fastest track in world.
The sport looks ridiculously scary but what should I keep in mind if I ever wanted to try it? Watch your steering because when you steer with your left side, it makes you go to the right, and when steer with the right, it makes you go left. So if you’re going toward a wall, the tendency is to lean away from it but actually that’s steering you right back into the wall. It’s very counterintuivive.
What happens when you wreck? It’s part of the sport so it happens but a lot of times—it’s just ice burn. Nine times out of 10 it looks worse than it is and we just go back up and take another run. But I don’t want to jinx myself and keep talking about it.
OK, change of subject. What does your Olympics outfit look like? Our suits are made by Karbon; they’re the same design our racing suits have been for the past few years. But we get specially painted helmets for the games. A guy named Jon Wooten airburshed them with a patriotic star design.
What do you like to wear when you’re not racing? I love to get dressed up but my lifestyle on the road doesn’t play to that very well. I’m living out of a suitcase for four or five months of the year so it’s really hard. It’s all about sweatpants and long underwear—they take up the all the space.
See our previous interviews with this year’s olympians
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Portrait: NBC/ USOC