By KIM SMITH DEDAM Press-Republican
---- — LAKE PLACID — The number 11 proved fortuitous for women’s luge Olympian Erin Hamlin.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, wearing No. 11, she earned the bronze Olympic medal for TeamUSA.
USA Luge teammate Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake beamed a Twitter message worldwide within minutes: “Erin gets the first ever women’s (luge) medal in U.S. history!!!”
It was a cherished goal for the 27-year-old athlete, who lives in Lake Placid and trains with the USA Luge team here.
“I don’t think, ‘Oh, I want to make history’ as much as I want to get a medal,” Erin said in a statement before Tuesday’s competition.
“I did once before, and I didn’t even think about it then, so maybe that’s the way to go. I’m just trying to set everything up, have fun and be happy with my runs. That’s the bottom line.”
COPING WITH LOSS
Erin pushed through the last weeks of Olympic training bearing an invisible weight of grief.
Her grandmother, Joan F. Hamlin, died in a tragic car crash in Trenton last December, just two days after Erin placed for Olympic competition in Sochi.
“It was extremely difficult to be completely all in the race when I know my family is all at home and something tragic has happened,” Erin told the Associated Press in an interview a few days ago.
“I can’t change it. She would be disappointed if I let it affect me too badly and decided against doing things, as far as the Olympics. I’ll try to do things that wouldn’t have disappointed her, I guess.”
Erin’s mom, Eileen, is in Sochi with a large family contingent, including Erin’s dad and brothers. The family shared the Olympian’s achievement.
“Erin’s a tough cookie,” Eileen Hamlin told AP before the races began Monday.
“She has a knack for kind of compartmentalizing things, so she’s able to kind of focus on her luge.
“I think that week (her grandmother died) was a tough week for her emotionally because she had expectations for herself, and her family was going to be out there and couldn’t (go). Here she was in a spot, ‘Do I race? Grandmother Hamlin would want me to race.’
“She came to the right conclusion on her own, but it was a difficult week.”
MOM ‘TOO JITTERY’
Eileen is one of three moms who share a “LugeMoms” Twitter account.
Ahead of Erin’s win in preliminary runs on Monday, Eileen took a beaming selfie wearing a turtleneck emblazoned “GO Erin – USA.”
Their Twitter account is dedicated to “Motherly thoughts & experiences as our children work toward fulfilling their Olympic dreams.”
The short bursts of communication carry great big messages, with a penchant for laughter.
“A bit too jittery to tweet, Fung Schway everybody,” Eileen tweeted ahead of Erin’s final runs.
This is the third round of Olympic competition for the Lake Placid luger.
German luger Natalie Geisenberger took gold; her teammate Tatjana Huefner won silver.
Erin, originally from Remsen, stood third in women’s luge singles early Tuesday going into the final two races. She held the position above two Canadians who were mere tenths of a second off her race time.
As the last two races got underway Tuesday, Eileen sent a quick message to the world with a reference to Central New York.
“This LugeMom is at the Senke Sliding center and soaking up as much ‘Fung Schway’ as possible from CNY.”
U.S.A. luge coach Mark Grimmette lives in Lake Placid. His wife, Keela Dates Grimmette, is well-known to many in the region for her work building the Jambo Jipya school in Africa.
“This is so exciting! History was made today for US luge! Flying high at the moment!,” Keela chimed in minutes after the race finished.
She was able to stream the race live online from their home in Lake Placid.
Mayor Craig Randall said Hamlin’s win is testament to her character and training.
“I’m totally thrilled for Erin. There’s going to be a huge celebration when she comes home. We’ve watched Erin over the years,” the mayor said.
“This also speaks to our Luge program, which has grown tremendously here.”
All three U.S. Luge women finished among the top 15 competitors, he said.
“We are looking at North Country athletes who can go out onto the world stage and excel. These are absolutely thrilling moments. We will all be excited when they come home.”
New York Senator Chuck Schumer congratulated the Olympian via Twitter, along with a flood of well-wishers from home.
“Way to go NYer @ErinHamlin! Bringing home the first medal in singles luge ever for #TeamUSA.”
And Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined in with congrats of his own: “Congratulations to @ErinHamlin of Remsen, NY, who just won a Bronze Medal in the Luge at #Sochi2014!”
Stephanie Abrams, Weather Channel announcer, who was in Lake Placid at the luge and bobsled training center here not long ago, also offered her congrats: “Watchin u win BRONZE gave me chills, @erinhamlin ! HUGE hug/congrats to u.”
Ice skating Olympian Michelle Kwan, now a member of the U.S. State Department envoy also fired off well wishes: “@USOlympic @erinhamlin - Congrats Erin!!”
AP photographers in Remsen captured the moment as about 150 students and teachers at the Junior/Senior High School celebrated in the school library. Watching Hamlin cross the luge track finish line, the room erupted into loud cheers, clapping and big, wide smiles.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org
LOCALS IN SOCHI
Thirteen of 22 New York state athletes competing in the Winter Olympics in Sochi are from the North Country. Here's who to watch for:
Lowell Bailey, Lake Placid, biathlon.
Tim Burke, Paul Smiths, biathlon.
Annelies Cooke, Saranac Lake, biathlon.
Nicholas Cunningham, Lake Placid, bobsled.
Billy Demong, Vermontville, Nordic combined.
Peter Frenette, Saranac Lake, ski jumping.
Jamie Greubel, Lake Placid, bobsled.
Erin Hamlin, Lake Placid, luge.
Andrew Weibrecht, Lake Placid, Alpine skiing.
Chris Mazdzer, Saranac Lake, luge.
Matthew Mortensen, Lake Placid, luge.
Justin Olsen, Lake Placid, bobsled.
Jayson Terdiman, Lake Placid, luge.