Reporting from Whistler, Canada — Erin Hamlin has trouble getting started.
The intricate series of muscle extensions and contractions at the top of the luge track that propel a slider from a dead stop to full-bore racing "is a work in progress," she said, sighing. "I guess they'll always be a work in progress."
But in every other way, Hamlin is a finished product.
At 23 and in her second Olympics, the athlete from Remsen, N.Y., is the reigning world champion, a title that usually doesn't come until much later in a luge career and certainly not to an American. This season, she won three World Cup bronze medals, the only non-German woman to reach the podium.
Hamlin finished 12th at the 2006 Olympics, behind teammate Courtney Zablocki, who came within a blink of an eye of reaching the podium.
"She got the label of the best U.S. finish so now I want to top that," Hamlin said. "Doing that would put me on the podium, so that would be amazing. It's very motivating."
German women swept the podium in the last two Olympics. Most of those women have retired, but that hasn't changed the dynamics. Hamlin knows by heart the women she'll have to beat Monday and Tuesday: Tatjana Huefner, Natalie Geisenberger and Anke Wischewski. Plus, there's Alex Gough, a Canadian on her home track.
Following the training accident Friday that killed Nodar Kumaritashvili, international luge officials dropped the women's start 804 vertical feet to reduce speeds, making an explosive start crucial and exposing Hamlin's shortcoming.
In addition, the new start curve enters the track sharply, forcing sliders to shift from start to drive mode almost instantly, "virtually impossible," she said.
But if Hamlin is worried, she isn't showing it.
"A good start and four amazing runs will do it," she said.
Hamlin was discovered in 1999 during the USA Luge Slider Search recruitment program, around the same time as Olympic teammates Megan Sweeney and Julia Clukey. She plans to go to college after the Winter Games, but won't look much further into the future.
"There are so many other things I want to do before it's too late," she said. "I also have the fear of losing it and starting to go downhill. I want to go out on top."
Like many other U.S. athletes, Hamlin's plans are colored by money.
"We aren't government funded. We can't completely live a life [on the stipend] of being a luge athlete," she said. "While we have great support from our sponsors for the sports aspect of our lives, I couldn't go out and have a family and buy a house and pay all my bills that way."
But there is one thing she'd like to have on her resume, besides Olympic medalist: role model.
"Just after winning worlds when walking though the training center when some of the younger kids were there I could hear them saying," as she dropped her voice to a whisper, " 'There's Erin' because they knew of me. I cracked up because I was thinking, 'Seven years ago, I was you. It's not that crazy.'
"It's the coolest thing ever, to have girls model their goals after you. It would be an honor to be the role model for the next generation of athletes. But we'll see."