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Olympic hopeful Kate Hansen gets spot on US luge team for World Cup opener

Socal teen Kate Hansen clinched a spot on the USA Luge national team for the first two World Cup races Sunday, giving the 17-year-old a chance at making the Olympics.

For someone who grew up with palm trees in the yard, a love of surfing and an absolute hatred of cold weather, luge didn’t originally seem like a natural fit for Hansen. But riding a sled while on her back at speeds up to 75 mph provides a special kind of adrenalin rush.

Hansen, a high school senior, was a surprise winner of the national  race-off series. She finished first in the four-race selection series, which ended Sunday at the 2010 Olympic track. She’ll join reigning world champion Erin Hamlin, Julia Clukey and Megan Sweeney when the World Cup season opens in Calgary, Alberta this coming weekend.

With a spot on the World Cup roster, Hansen has a real chance to compete in the Vancouver Olympics, something even she thought was a farfetched notion.

The next step is competing in the first two races on the international circuit, starting this weekend in Calgary, Alberta and then Nov. 28-29 in Igls, Austria. If Hansen doesn’t collect a top-nine finish in either race, she’ll need to re-qualify to keep her spot on the World Cup team.

As luge stories often do, Hansen’s started on a lark.

Born and raised in Southern California, Hansen got started as a 10-year-old at a USA Luge slider search event in Long Beach, Calif., earning an invitation to Lake Placid.

Luge seemed more a hobby than anything else until 2008, when Hansen won the junior national title. Few of her friends really get luge, Hansen said — but they all know the significance of the Olympics. And with less than 100 days until the Winter Games, they’ll no doubt be following her competition closely.

Some facts from the Team USA Luge site:

  • The word “luge” comes from the French word for “sled,”
  • The average luge run has a vertical drop of 30 stories (300 feet).
  • Luge is the only sliding sport measured to the single thousandth of a second.
  • Sliders  go from 0 to 60 in less than 20 seconds and forces can reach 5 G’s whipping through  banked turns.
  • There are now two artificially refrigerated tracks in the United States: Lake Placid and Park City.

For more background on the Luge, check out the USA Luge site or check out this Wired article on How To Luge. Here’s one of the rules:

Be fearless. Sliders must don head-to-toe spandex. Oh, and then speed down a mile-long frozen waterslide at 90 mph sans brakes.

Sounds like a blast doesn’t it?

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