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Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • Kate Hansen handled the stress and intensity of the World Cup luge schedule very nicely, dismissing the injury that almost derailed her season and not allowing herself to become overwhelmed by her career-making opportunity.
And then it hit her Sunday, the night before the BYU student's first Olympic competition.
"It all came in one moment, and it was a lot to handle," she said Monday night, after finishing the first two of four runs in 10th place.
She thought of breaking her foot in October at the Utah Olympic Park, just when she was trying to make the U.S. team. She remembered fighting through the injury by racing with her foot in a boot. She reflected on becoming the first U.S. luger in 17 years to win a World Cup race, breaking through in Latvia in late January and becoming the U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete of the month.
"Oh, my gosh," she concluded. "This is an unbelievable ride. I can't believe I actually made it."
If Hansen's story is improbable, consider the potential for her teammate. Erin Hamlin stands third, positioned to become the first American women's or men's individual luge medalist.
"That would be un-freakin'-believable," Hansen said.
Germany's Natalie Geisenberger leads with a combined time of 1 minute, 39.814 seconds. She's followed by another German, 2010 gold medalist Tatjana Huefner (1:40.58), and Hamblin (1:40.632).
As for herself, a top-10 finish would be a nice achievement, giving Hansen some stories to tell when she returns to BYU this spring. She's taking this academic year off, but has spent considerable time working out in Provo lately among athletes who don't quite recognize her because she's not in a varsity sport.
Hansen is from the Los Angeles area, where she was known to practice for luge by riding a skateboard on her back down a hilly street. She was discovered in a local tryout session and made regular trips to Park City to further develop her skills as a teenager, then enrolled at BYU.
She once broke her back during a run on the demanding track at Whistler, British Columbia, and later barely missed making the 2010 U.S. Olympic team that competed at the same venue. So in the starting area Monday, "I couldn't stop smiling," Hansen said. "I just had this huge smile on my face, because it just hit me all in one moment that I was at the Olympics."
And she was just "ecstatic" afterward, having improved from what she described as poor training runs.