Going into the XXII Winter Olympics, La Canada Flintridge resident Kate Hansen said she "would love a Top 10 finish" in the women's singles luge competition -- and today's initial competition landed her right in 10th place.
The 21-year-old Hansen had a total time of 1:41.375 after her first two runs. The top finishers are separated by mere fractions of a second. Two more runs are scheduled for Tuesday.
Family and friends of Hansen gathered at Los Gringos Locos, a La Canada Flintridge Mexican restaurant Hansen's father co-owns with his brother Bent, to watch her compete. Hansen scored some extra television coverage thanks to her pre-race routine of vigorous dancing.
Asked by a Twitter follower what she was listening to on her headphones, Hansen responded, "Beyonce. Every time. Can't help it ya know?"
Hansen was seventh in the World Cup standings this season despite racing with a broken foot for several months. She had the 20th fastest time in Sunday's training runs on the Sanki Sliding Center track in Rzhanaya Polyana, Russia, the ninth and 11th fastest in Saturday's two training runs and fifth and 13th fastest Thursday.
Hansen won the Jan. 25 race in Sigulda, Latvia, the first World Cup victory by a U.S. luge singles athlete since 1997. The victory prompted the U.S. Olympic Committee to select her as its Female Athlete of the Month.
The victory gave her "tons of confidence," but "I still feel the same," said Hansen, a 2010 graduate of La Canada High School who now attends Brigham Young University.
"I just didn't think it was possible," Hansen said. "I'm not going to short-circuit myself. Anything's possible at this point, but I'm not assuming anything, expecting anything. I'm not expecting some huge win, but I wouldn't be surprised if something happened."
Hansen considers the German contingent of Natalie Geisenberger, the two- time reigning World Cup champion, Tatjana Huefner, the only luger to defeat Geisenberger this World Cup season, and Anke Wischnewski as the favorites.
"They're physically strong girls and their starts are just super fast," Hansen said. "They're great drivers. They know the track well. I think it will be exciting on a Russian track because the Germans don't know this track as well."
Hansen said her becoming a luger was "pretty random."
Her father, John, took her to a "slider search" in Long Beach conducted by USA Luge, the sport's national governing body, when she was 10 years old, after being advised there was a correlation between two of her favorite activities, skateboarding and surfing, and luge.
"Sliding is a lot like surfing so I took to it really well," Hansen said.
In 2008, Hansen became the youngest U.S. luge junior world champion when she was 15 years old. She narrowly missed earning a spot on the U.S. team for the 2010 Olympics.
Luge is the word for sled in the Savoy/Swiss dialect of French. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous Olympic winter sports. Lugers slide at speeds approaching 90 mph on sleds on a track of artificially frozen ice.
The luger starts in a seated position. After pushing off, he or she lies down on his or her back on the sled with his or her feet stretched out. The rider steers the sled by moving his or her center of gravity.—City News Service