When Team USA is introduced to the world at the Parade of Nations in PyeongChang, Erin Hamlin will be leading them out. The American luger will be the flag bearer for Team USA. Hamlin will lead a group of 244 athletes, the largest U.S. contingent in Olympics history. “It was a pretty big shock,” Hamlin told NBC, “but it is an honor and a privilege to be recognized by all of Team USA.”
The 31-year-old began her Olympic career in 2006 in Torino and made it back to the Vancouver Games in 2010, failing to reach the podium each time. Hamlin finally broke through in Sochi in 2014, winning bronze in the singles luge, the first American to reach the podium since the event debuted at the Olympics in 1964.
Hamlin’s first run of the 2018 Pyeongchang games will be on Feb. 12.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Not All of Hamlin’s Teammates Are Happy She is Team USA’s Flag Bearer
Her selection has come with some controversy. According to fellow U.S. Olympian Shani Davis, Hamlin got the nod because of a coin flip. Davis tweeted that Team USA “dishonorably” made the selection and that he could “wait til 2022” to be flag bearer. Davis also added the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth which raises question about whether the decision was racially charged. Hamlin is white, Davis is black. “We feel strongly toward Shani and they felt strongly for Erin,” U.S. speedskater Joey Mantia told CBS. “That’s just that.”
At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Davis became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Olympic Winter Games, winning the speedskating 1000 meter event. U.S. Olympic Committee Spokesperson Mark Jones responded to the controversy, telling USA Today: “It is an athlete-driven process and the selection was made between two great candidates.”
Hamlin and Davis were among eight nominees for the flagbearer role. The list includes athletes from each of the eight winter sports federations: bobsled and skeleton, ski and snowboarding, figure skating, curling, biathlon, hockey, speedskating and luge. After several rounds of voting, the decision was in a dead heat at 4-4 between Davis and Hamlin, per USA Today. The USOC’s official procedure is that a coin flip must be used to break the tie. You can read more about Davis here.
2. Pyeongchang Will Be Hamlin’s 4th Trip to the Olympics
Hamlin’s Olympic career began in 2006, with a 12th place finish in Torino. She was unable to improve on that result four years later in Vancouver, finishing 16th at the 2010 Olympics. In 2014, the third time was a charm as Hamlin made history in Sochi, winning Team USA’s first ever Olympic medal in the sport, taking home bronze in the singles luge.
WIBX, A local radio station in upstate New York, chronicled Hamlin’s family watching her trip down the Olympic track in 2014.
Hamlin has also won two gold medals and two silver medals in her career at the World Championships. In 2009, at just 22-years-old, Hamlin won her first World Championship title, becoming the first non-german to take home gold in the event since 1993. It took eight years for Hamlin to reach the podium again, but she would do so in style. Hamlin won three medals at the 2017 World Championships, including a gold in sprint discipline. She also won silver in the singles competition and another silver as the lead leg of the team relay. It was the biggest medal haul ever by an American luger at a single World Championships. Hamlin finished the 2017 campaign fourth overall in the world rankings.
3. Hamlin Will Retire After the Olympics
The fourth Olympics will be Hamlin’s last. The announcement came in 2017, when Hamlin was enjoying the best season of her 16-year-career. “I can now officially, officially say that I’m done. Done,” Hamlin told NBC. “Now that I’m qualified I can say that I’m out [after the Games].”
The decision has certainly come with some pushback. “We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney told NBC. After the Olympics in Pyeongchang, Hamlin says getting married this summer in her hometown of Ramsen, New York, per NBC. The wedding will be at her parents home this July. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year,” Hamlin told NBC. “It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”
4. She Mentors Underprivileged Students for Charity
Hamlin is in her sixth year as an athlete mentor for Classroom Champions, a non-profit organization partnering Olympic and Paralympic athletes with students and teachers in underserved communities, according to her U.S. Olympic bio. Hamlin is one of several Olympians listed as athlete mentor on the Classroom Champions website. The list includes athletes from the U.S. and Canada.
During an interview with the children’s educational platform AskListenLearn.org, Hamlin shared her inspiration for being an athlete mentor. “I have the opportunity to share my story, interact with more people from all over and hopefully encourage them to achieve greatness,” Hamlin said. “For the students, I think it gives such a positive influence in everyday life. Practicing great things like eating healthy and learning how to set goals are things the students can carry with them forever, leading to success in careers and their adult lives as well. For me, they are constant reminders to practice what I preach!”
A picture of Hamlin reading to kids at Horace Mann Elementary School in West Allis, Wisconsin can be found here. Hamlin also became a spokeswoman for the National Headache Foundation in 2009. She suffers from migraines and was almost forced to miss the 2009 World Championships because of a “debilitating migraine”.
5. Hamlin Grew Up Nearby the Team USA’s Olympic Training Facility in Lake Placid
She grew up in Remsen, New York, about 130 miles away from the famed site of the 1980 Winter Olympics, but she splits her time between the two locations. In an Instagram post at the 2017 World Championships in Lake Placid, Hamlin called the location her “second home”. According to her U.S. Olympic bio, Hamlin was a multi-sport athlete and sectional all-star in both soccer and track while attending at Remsen High School. Her favorite athlete is Mia Hamm.
When Hamlin was just 12-years-old she began practicing luge at the track in Lake Placid. She tried the sport one day “on a whim” and was instantly hooked. “It’s fast,” Hamlin told the New York Times in 2006. “You are always on the edge, and there is no way to describe the rush you get when you are sliding at 130 kilometers per hour just four inches off the ground.”
Hamlin added she has always dreamed of competing in the Olympics, dating back to her gymnastics days as a child. “I did gymnastics growing up and got to see the girls from the ’96 Games, which was very inspiring,” Hamlin told the New York Times prior to her first trip to the Olympics. “I had always dreamed of going for gymnastics but never realistically. I would have never guessed then that I would be doing what I do now, getting ready for my first Olympics.”