Piece of Mind: The Sun shined on an Olympian in the making

What fun it was for all of us last week to cheer on our own Olympian, luger Kate Hansen. Viewing parties were held at Los Gringos Locos, with Kate’s uncle, Bent Hansen, holding court, entertaining the masses and welcoming media outlets scrambling for a local angle on the happenings at the Sochi Olympics.

In the paper, we’ve pretty much documented the whole experience in the news and sports sections, as well as in columns. And we were very lucky to have an unofficial (and unexpected) correspondent in the form of Greg Brown, a former mayor of our town who was on the spot at the Sanki Olympic Sliding Center in Polyana, Russia with his wife, Joyce, and Kate’s immediate family members to serve as our eyewitnesses. Greg was thoughtful enough to send us some photos he took of our 21-year-old Olympian following one of her runs. You may have spotted those shots; one ran on our front page and another in Jane Neely’s Valley Line column last Thursday.

So I was hesitant to pile on even more, but Kate’s skills and exuberance were so captivating that I can’t let the Winter Olympics end without at least a word or two here. It’s been a rare pleasure to see one of our youths grow into a world-class athlete. I think it was a bit of a gift to all of us.

Still savoring the local excitement about her achievements and as charmed as others worldwide were by her pre-run dancing moves that drew a lot of attention, I was delighted Tuesday night to accidentally stumble across a February 2004 Valley Sun story about her having been chosen to participate in a luge screening camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. A photo accompanying the article, no doubt provided to us by her parents, John and Kathie, shows the 11-year-old Kate, then a student at Palm Crest Elementary School, beaming from behind the face shield of her protective helmet.

The vintage article reports the youngster had reached speeds of 25 mph on the training hill in Long Beach. Her mother admitted to having at least a little parental nervousness about her daughter’s participation in the sport. But Kate seemed fearless, even then. “The hardest part is the training,” the youngster told our former sports editor, Ralph Saenz. “You have to build up your whole body, but I’ll get through it,” she said 10 years ago this month.

And so she did — making us all proud. Last week, she was traveling at about 80 mph in the runs that placed her in the top 10 in the women’s single’s luge competition. No doubt we’ll see more from her in coming years, giving us more opportunity to boast about one of our own. How cool is that?


CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. Email her at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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