A dream realized and a goal accomplished, La Cañada Flintridge resident Kate Hansen certainly made the most of her first-ever trip to the Winter Olympics.
The 21-year-old, who earlier stated that one of her goals was a top-10 finish, did just that, taking 10th overall in the women’s singles luge competition at the XII Winter Olympics thanks in part to a strong close on her final run Tuesday evening at the Sanki Olympic Sliding Center in Rzhanaya Polyana, Russia, which is located 30 miles from Sochi.
Hansen started fast on her fourth and last run of the competition, recovering from just clipping the ice on her third run earlier in the day, by posting her personal Olympic-best time of 50.499 seconds.
All four of runs from Monday and Tuesday combined for Hansen’s cumulative time of 3 minutes, 22.667 seconds, which secured 10th place, just ahead of Russia’s Ekaterina Baturina (3:22.731) and not far from ninth-place Martina Kocher (3:22.166) of Switzerland.
Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, the reigning world champion and the event’s favorite, won the gold in 3:19.768, while American veteran Erin Hamlin also made history.
The 27-year-old Hamlin finished third in 3:21.145 and secured the bronze, the inaugural medal for the U.S. women’s luge program and the first singles luge medal, whether male or female, in American history.
As for Hansen, the 2010 La Cañada High alumna entered Tuesday’s final day in 10th place, but her grip on the position loosened a bit when she brushed the wall on an early turn and finished with a time of 29.707 through the halfway point, her worst midway mark of the Games.
Yet, Hansen recovered to finish in 50.793, which was a hair better than her time of 50.794 earned in Monday’s first run, but over two-tenths of a second slower than Monday’s top time of 50.581, which was earned on her second run.
“I’m having so much fun, probably the most fun I’ve ever had sliding,” Hansen said in an interview with the NBC Sports Network on Monday following her first two runs. “So, I’m just stoked to be here. I’m glad that I had two pretty clean runs, so I’m just happy.”
Of course, expectations varied for Hansen entering the Winter Games.
Hansen secured a berth to the Olympics thanks to a three-week run in December in which she finished seventh (1:54.605) at the third Viessmann Luge World Cup on Dec. 1 and sixth (1:13.851) at the fourth World Cup on Dec. 7 before placing fourth (1:27.929) at the fifth World Cup on Dec. 13 at Park City, Utah.
“It wasn’t totally necessary to have to finish in the top five [at Park City],” Hansen said two days after the event, “but it’s great to have my best race.”
Of course, Hansen’s best race was yet to come, as the youngster created history in becoming the first U.S. female luge competitor to win a World Cup event in 17 years when she captured the final leg of the World Cup in Sigulda, Latvia on Jan. 25.
After that victory, Hansen’s world ranking jumped to seventh before the start of the Games.
“Honestly, I’m satisfied. I’m satisfied just making the team,” Hansen said in the lead up to the Olympics. “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.”
Hansen will return home as La Cañada High’s most celebrated Olympic athlete, as her exploits topped those of alumnus Peter Wells, who competed in sailing at the 2004 Games in Sydney and finished 28th in the mistral event.
Of course, beyond La Cañada, Hansen may be more known for her pre-run dance routine, which has become a YouTube hit and earned the luger attention outside the sporting world.
The crowds packed in at Los Gringos Locos, a La Cañada-based Mexican-themed restaurant owned by Hansen’s father and uncle, John and Bent, respectively, on Monday and Tuesday to catch Kate’s runs.
Kelli Erdmann of Burbank, who attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Glendale, a place of worship that Kate has frequented, according to Erdmann, said she traveled to Los Gringos Locos to root on a friend.
“I learned about Kate by an email that Los Gringos sent out and I wanted to come out and support,” said Erdmann, who said she recently paired with Hansen for a Youtube video. “I hope she does well.”
For Montrose resident Brenda Khawaja, cheering on Kate gave her a chance to reconnect with those from her former neighborhood.
“It’s really nice to see a lot of familiar faces and I was really curious to see how the community would come out,” said Khawaja, whose son Omar formerly played on the La Cañada High boys’ water polo team. “The support is here for Kate.”
-- Grant Gordon contributed to this report.