Hansen punches ticket onto luge World Cup team

Kate Hansen makes her way down the track during the United States luge team trials Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)
Kate Hansen makes her way down the track during the United States luge team trials Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, in Park City, Utah. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)

A national title. A broken foot. A berth on the World Cup team.

It’s been a wild few days for U.S. Olympic luge hopeful Kate Hansen, whose chances of qualifying for this winter’s Sochi Games are looking better and better.

Hansen won the second and final round of team selection races Sunday in Park City, Utah, cementing her spot on the roster that the U.S. will send into the first half of the World Cup season that starts next month. That means Hansen is one step closer to securing an Olympic berth, something she narrowly missed four years ago.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about how I work mentally,” Hansen said Sunday in an interview with USA Luge. “Obviously, no one wants to break their foot, but I’m capable of things that I never thought I would be capable of. I think that’s the biggest deal in itself. Whether or not the Olympics happen or any of this works out, I think I’ve proven some things to myself and some people.”

Hansen got hurt in a training accident on Wednesday in Park City, when she encountered some trouble around Curve 14 and wound up slamming her foot into the track wall. By the time she finished that run, she was in tears and great pain, knowing something was wrong. And before long, team officials knew she needed X-rays, which confirmed the broken bone.

Two days later, she was back on the ice.

Two days after that, she beat a field of five women in the selection race with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 29.601 seconds, or 0.147 seconds better than Julia Clukey. After one run, the time difference between first and fifth in the women’s field was a mere 0.099 seconds.

“It’s a crazy and ridiculous life we live,” Hansen said.

Hansen is among the sliders using new equipment that USA Luge is working with through a partnership with Dow Chemical, and she believes that, in time, she may be faster than ever.

An Olympic year would certainly be a good year for that to come together, too.

“I’m fully committed to these things,” Hansen said of the new runners that were rolled out on a limited basis late last season, with mostly rave reviews. “I’m fully committed to making them work. I know what my other setup is like and I know what I can do on that, but I just really want to see the possibilities with these things. I have some feeling that they could really work out.”

Also Sunday in Park City, national champion Chris Mazdzer won the men’s selection race, and the team of Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall prevailed in the doubles competition.

Hansen, Clukey, Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher will be the U.S. women’s World Cup team to open the schedule. Mazdzer, Tucker West, Joe Mortensen and Taylor Morris will be the American lugers on the men’s World Cup circuit to start the season.

Mortensen and Griffall, Jacob Hyrns and Andrew Sherk, and Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman will be the doubles pairings on the World Cup team.

“It was tight. Everything was on the line,” USA Luge head coach and sport program director Mark Grimmette said. “Everyone wants to compete at the Olympics. They were going as fast as possible to qualify for Olympic team selection.”

World Cup racing starts in Norway next month, and is preceded by a training week on the Olympic track north of Sochi Nov. 1–7. The U.S. Olympic luge team will be picked in December, around the midpoint of the World Cup season.

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