The USA Luge team attained a big goal during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Tracy native Bill Tavares was part of that history-making team.
Tavares, Tracy High School Class of 1982, is an assistant coach for USA Luge and helped train Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., for her bronze-medal performance in the first week of the Winter Olympics. Hamlin finished the event Feb. 11 with a combined time of 3 minutes, 21.145 seconds in four runs at the Sanki Sliding Center. Her total was 1.377 seconds behind gold-medalist Natalie Geisenberger of Germany.
After returning to his home in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week, Tavares said that Hamlin’s bronze medal was the first singles medal in the Olympics for USA Luge. Tavares said the medal meant even more because Hamlin shared the podium with two athletes from a German team that has dominated the sport since 1980 and won the gold in every luge event at Sochi.
“Luge to them is like our baseball and football,” Tavares said. “Their baseline is a lot higher than ours.”
He was quick to add that he knew when he joined USA Luge as a coach in 2010 that Hamlin, 27, then a two-time Olympian, was capable of medaling at the Sochi games.
“When I came on, she was already an established athlete and was already a world champion,” Tavares said, noting that Hamlin won the gold medal at the 2009 International Luge Federation World Championships in Lake Placid.
Tavares competed in luge at the 1992 Olympics and coached the USA Bobsled team for 12 years, including at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics.
Now, his job is to guide the luge team through conditioning exercises that give the athletes the ability to guide their sleds at speeds as fast as 85 mph on the narrow track. Training includes seven-hour sessions four to six times a week, including two or three hours at a time in the weight room, plus agility exercises and running.
“They have full days. It’s a job, basically, and a lot of them have jobs after their training,” Tavares said.
He said that the Sochi games were a success for the USA Luge team as a whole. Hamlin’s teammates Kate Hansen and Summer Britcher placed 10th and 15th, respectively, in women’s singles. The U.S. men placed 13th and 22nd in singles, an improvement from the team’s 2010 finishes. USA Luge also placed 11th and 14th in doubles and sixth in the team relay.
Tavares said the team would be getting ready for the ongoing series of world cups and world championships, with an eye always on the next Winter Olympics: “We’re starting all over again and getting ready for the next four years.”
Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.