Published: February 4, 2014
U.S. luge racers could make Winter Olympics history with three standing a good chance at becoming the first American to medal in singles competition.
Men's racer Chris Mazdzer, 25, knows he has a chance to break through after a strong World Cup season when he placed fifth overall.
His high hopes are shared by women's singles racers Erin Hamlin and Kate Hansen, who placed sixth and seventh in their season standings, respectively.
"We are all in striking distance since luge is measured to the thousandth of a second," Mazdzer said.
As a result, the racers are confident and relaxed headed into Sochi, Russia. Singles competition is Saturday through Sunday for the men followed by the womenMonday-Tuesday. The doubles competition is Feb. 12 with the first-ever team relay Feb.?13.
"Instead of working to get more speed out of our sleds, now we are just trying to relax so when we reach Sochi we are ready to hit the ground running," Mazdzer said.
A medal would be a landmark American achievement in a sport dominated by the Germans, who are favored in all four events. That country, including predecessor East Germany, has taken home 41 of 78 medals, including 18 of 27 golds, since the sport debuted in 1964.
The U.S. men and women came close to the singles podium before when Adam Heidt and Tony Benshoof placed fourth in 2002 and 2006, respectively. Courtney Zablocki finished fourth in 2006 (Turin) for an American woman's best finish.
The U.S. has two doubles silvers and bronzes from 1998 and 2002.
"They came very close so we know we are just one fantastic run from being in the hunt," Mazdzer said.
Hamlin, 27, is competing in her third Olympics and knows to temper her expectations. The 2009 world champion placed 16th in Vancouver in 2010.
"This year my mindset has been different," she said. "All I can do is relax and come in confident and be ready to let go and let things happen. It is not something I have been able to do all the time, but I think I can do my best if I can do that."
Hansen feels good about her chances after her first World Cup event victory, albeit without the top Germans competing, about 10 days ago. It was the United States' first event win since 1997.
"It hasn't really hit me and it may never," the 21-year-old said.
"I am just grateful that I was focused in the moment and didn't screw up my last run. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my equipment right now. I am excited to see how it plays out."