An eight-year dream backed by more than a decade of training, preparation and sacrifice came true for 21-year-old La Cañada resident Kate Hansen.
The luger and La Cañada High alumna was officially selected to the U.S. Olympics luge team on Sunday, two days after turning in the best performance of her career at the fifth Viessmann Luge World Cup in Park City, Utah.
Hansen was one of three women's singles competitors out of a total 10-athlete luge contingent to earn a berth to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"I don't really have words for what happened," Hansen said. "I think it will take a little bit longer to set in. It's just been a real emotional time. This is what I've been working for."
Hansen may very well be peaking, as she placed fourth, her highest-ever finish, at the World Cup on Friday in a time of 1 minute, 27.929 seconds.
Hansen was actually just outside the lead midway through the race as she was second, trailing only race-winner Natalie Geisenberger (1:27.628) of Germany.
According to Hansen, she had technically already qualified to the Olympics thanks to her sixth-place effort (1:13.851) at the fourth World Cup in Whistler, Canada on Dec. 7 and her seventh-place finish (1:54.605) at the third World Cup in Winterberg, Germany on Dec. 1.
"It wasn't totally necessary to have to finish in the top five [at Park City]," Hansen said, "but it's great to have my best race."
In qualifying to Sochi, Hansen helped eliminate 2010 U.S. Olympian Julia Clukey, who went into last weekend needing to finish in the top five, but placed sixth (1:28.003).
Earlier in the qualifying rounds, Hansen also outlasted teammate and friend Emily Sweeney.
"It's definitely not easy to advance and it's hard because you're going against your teammates who are now your enemies," Hansen said. "It's incredibly stressful because at that moment your career can end."
Hansen was joined in Utah by her father, John, and her mother, Kathie.
"Kate is very happy, but this whole process takes a toll. It's very different," John Hansen said. "She had a race-off earlier with Emily, whom she's known and whom both started together when they were 10 years old. Sure, [Kate] won and advanced, but she also knows what it's like not to reach the Olympics."
Sunday's announcement came almost four years to the day that Kate Hansen narrowly missed qualifying to the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
"It was gut-wrenching at the time and to be honest, it's on your mind every single day," Kate Hansen said. "When it comes down to it, your whole world has been turned upside down. You have to pick yourself up and recover."
It didn't take long for Hansen's accomplishment to reach home.
"Kate has been doing this for a long time and I remembered how bummed she was she didn't make it," said La Cañada High girls' basketball coach Tamar Hill, who last coached Hansen her senior year during the 2009-10 season. "I remember as a freshman she was already taking trips to Lake Placid. She's been working for this for years and it's great she accomplished her dream."
Hansen is believed to be the second-ever athlete from La Cañada High to advance to the Olympics after alumnus Peter Wells competed in sailing at the 2004 Games in Sydney and finished 28th in the mistral event.
"We've been tracking Kate's progress for months and we couldn't be more proud of Kate fulfilling a lifelong dream," said La Cañada High athletic director Craig Franzen, who taught a government economics class in which Hansen attended. "When Kate was my student, she would literally take semesters off to train in New York. She sacrificed a lot to accomplish her dream. Good for her."