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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Erin Hamlin accomplished something Tuesday night no other U.S. athlete has done in a half century of trying: She ended the United States' deep freeze in the singles luge.
Hamlin captured the bronze medal and broke a 50-year U.S. streak with no medals in the event – an 0-for-forever hole that has existed since the luge was introduced as a sport in the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Games. Including the three medals awarded in the men's event on Sunday, the U.S. men's and women's programs had failed in 81 medal opportunities leading up to Tuesday.
"It's surreal," Hamlin said. "…I came here with no expectations and this is beyond what I imagined."
[ Photos: Erin Hamlin celebrates a U.S. Olympic first ]
After finishing 12th in the 2006 Turin Games and 16th in Vancouver in 2010, Hamlin surfaced as a serious medal threat in Sochi. She posted competitive training times heading into her event, which has essentially been owned by Germany since its inclusion in the Games. Of the 81 Olympic medals awarded in singles luge heading into Tuesday night, 54 had been won by Germany (East, West and unified). That total added two more when Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner took gold and silver, just ahead of Hamlin.
Geisenberger is far and away the world's best in women's singles luge and dominated the event in Sochi, but Hamlin had a realistic opportunity for a silver medal heading into Tuesday. Locked in a duel for second place on the podium, Hamlin lost .117 seconds to Huefner in the third run of the four-run event. She ultimately couldn't make up the distance in the fourth race, but held off the Canadian tandem of Alex Gough and Kimberley McRae to seize her spot in history.
"When I went into that third-to-last curve," Hamlin said, "I thought to myself, 'I think I just did it.' "