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America's new pastime: luge?

The US is enjoying unprecedented success in winter sports where it has long struggled, raising hopes for medals in the 2010 Olympics.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 18, 2009

SPEED QUEEN: Lindsey Vonn, newly crowned World Cup champion, has high hopes for Vancouver.

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Vancouver, watch out.

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With a year until the 2010 Olympics open, US athletes are doing historic things. During the past two Winter Games, America has plundered Olympic success by cashing in on new events such as snowboarding and mogul skiing. This winter, however, America is at last making inroads into the sports that make up the core of the winter program – that curious collection of events, from biathlon to Nordic combined, that inspire wild cowbell ringing among Europeans.

The luge, for example, could stake no claim to being America's pastime. Germany's pastime, perhaps. Until this winter, German women had won 99 consecutive international events over more than a decade. American luger Erin Hamlin stopped the streak short of 100, winning the most important event of this year's calendar, the World Championships. It was the first medal for a US woman in the sport.

Hamlin's achievement is only one example of American emergence this year as a more powerful and well-rounded force in winter Olympic sports.

•On Saturday, alpine skier Lindsey Vonn became the first American woman to win back-to-back overall World Cup titles, an award intended to designate the world's best skier.

•In the Nordic combined, which combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing, the US team dominated the World Championships – taking two medals in one race. America has never won a Nordic combined Olympic medal.

Kikkan Randall became the first US woman to win a medal at the World Championships.

•The four-man bobsled team won its first World Championships in 50 years

Jeremy Teela won a medal on the World Cup tour for biathlon, which combines shooting and cross-country skiing, breaking a 17-year drought for the US.

In it to win it

The US even managed superlatives in one of the few traditional winter sports where it has historically fared well: speed skating. On the same Vancouver ice where the Olympics will be held next year, 19-year-old Trevor Marsicano last week won four World Championship medals in four days – unprecedented in US skating.

America's success at the World Championships, the most important event in non-Olympic years, in a wide array of winter sports bodes well for Vancouver.

"In the summer [Games] ... we don't go in thinking, 'Well, I hope we're in the top three," says Bob Condron, a spokesman for the US Olympic Committee. Now, he says, the winter Olympic sports have acquired that same kind of attitude: "We're going to win this."

For competition, the US will have traditional powerhouses like Germany and Russia, but also host Canada, which has won nearly a third of its all-time medals in the last two Games alone.

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