More than a decade after Kate Hansen first began sledding, she finds herself closer than ever to realizing her Olympic dream.
The La Cañada High School graduate succeeded in her second attempt at making the U.S. women's luge team and will compete Monday in her first run at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I’m excited to finally live out my dream,” said the 21-year-old Hansen, a 2010 La Cañada High graduate and a lifelong La Cañada Flintridge resident. Hansen began sledding when she was 10 after attending a luge recruitment camp in Long Beach.
A month ago, Hansen was in Altenberg, Germany, for the eighth leg of the International Luge Federation Viessmann Luge World Cup series.
“I’m satisfied just making the team,” Hansen said, noting that her main goal was to make her parents proud. “Second, I think a top 10 would be great. I think I’ve got it in me. If the stars align for me, I think a top five would be pretty cool.”
Things changed dramatically for Hansen when she won the final race in the World Cup series in Sigulda, Latvia. With the victory, Hansen became the first United States singles racer to win a World Cup event since 1997.
“I definitely have a lot of confidence going into the Games,” Hansen stated via email two days after her win on Jan. 25. “I’m not going to expect or assume anything. I’m just going to give it my all.”
If Hansen or any of her teammates on the USA’s female squad win a medal, it would be the first time in Olympic history. USA team member Courtney Zablocki came closest in 2006 when she scored a fourth-place finish.
Hansen’s World Cup triumph may just be the catalyst her team needs to make history. At least that’s what Team USA is hoping for.
“Kate's win has given the team a good sense of what's possible,” Mark Grimmette, the USA’s luge sports program director and coach, said in an email. “When an athlete realizes success, they grow to expect more from themselves and the team as a whole. Success can breed success.”
Grimmette is a former five-time Olympian who won two of the USA luge’s four medals in its history — one silver and one bronze. All four have been claimed by men’s doubles sliders.
Hansen, who finished seventh in the final World Cup standings, is joined on the Team USA women’s squad by Erin Hamlin, 27, of New York and Summer Britcher, 19, of Pennsylvania.
Hansen and the field will take to the course with Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger as the favorite for gold after a dominant showing in claiming her second straight World Cup series championship.
Germany, which has four luge tracks compared with two in the United States, has long dominated the sport. A German woman has won every gold medal in luge since 1998.
Geisenberger is looking to win her first gold medal after having won seven of the first eight races in the World Cup series. Four of the top five spots in the final standings were occupied by German lugers.
But Hansen led off the World Cup season in Lillehammer, Norway, with a first-place run, but her second run dropped her to 12th with Geisenberger getting the win.
Hansen also had her previous top finish on Dec. 14 in Park City, Utah, as she finished fourth and solidified her spot on the Olympic team.
Capping the season in thrilling fashion, Hansen won World Cup gold in the ninth and final race in Sigulda, Latvia. She defeated Canada’s Alex Gough, who finished second in the race and the cup standings.
“When you’re in the zone … you seem to be going fast no matter what the track,” Sheer said. “Hopefully she can carry this forward.”