SOCHI 2014

May 07 Erin Hamlin’s Career Is Cookin’

By Lisa Costantini | May 07, 2013, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
 
Erin Hamlin competes during the luge competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games at Whistler Sliding Centre on Feb. 16, 2010.

Sledding is an activity millions of kids and adults love to do in the winter. But take that sled and ride it feet-first down an icy track at almost 100 mph, and that is a sport by another name — luge. And it is no piece of cake. Just ask luger Erin Hamlin. The two-time Olympian — who is about to start an intensive training schedule with the hopes of heading to Sochi with Team USA next year — knows all about cake... and cookies and cupcakes. The winter athlete has a love for baking that started long before her luge career eight years ago.

“My mom and my grandmother are very good at baking,” she said, “so it was one of those things I grew up doing. And I enjoy it a lot. It’s so far removed from sports and my life as an athlete that it’s nice to be able to take my mind off all that.”

Her mom — who lives only three hours away from her daughter’s training center in Lake Placid, N.Y. — still bakes with her only daughter in mind. “My teammates have experienced a lot of my mom’s baking skills because she always sends stuff. So now if I walk down the hall with a box, I’ll suddenly have a lot of friends.” Not that she minds, because as she says, “It’s not necessarily the best thing to have baked goods hanging around all the time when you’re trying to train. So I spread the wealth. I’ll take them to our office and down to the staff around the training center.”

Now she is able to bake the sweet stuff for herself thanks to “a little kitchenette they put in the training center a couple of years ago.” And balancing her training on the ice with her time in the kitchen is helping her with a longtime dream of hers — besides the one she has of earning an Olympic medal one day. This one she has been trying to achieve since she was a little girl, and it requires her to beat her grandma at her town’s annual baking contest.


Hamlin's Black Eyed Susan Cupcakes.

“In my town in New York there is a baking contest held during the annual arts and crafts fair, and anyone can enter. I did it a couple of times when I was younger (and competed in the kids category), but my mom and grandma have always done it. And my grandma wins almost every year. As I got older I thought I could beat grandma, since I was finally able to try things that were a little more crazy. One year I made chocolate cupcakes with sweet cream cheese filling and a chocolate ganache, and made them to look like the flower, Black-Eyed Susan.”

But despite putting forth a good effort — and a second place finish — she has yet to beat grandma.

A dessert you will probably never see her attempt — even if it could mean earning that top title — is one that involves fruit. “I love fruit. And I love chocolate. But something about putting them together is not at all appealing to me.” Rather what does appeal to her is using Team USA sponsor, Chobani Greek yogurt when she cooks.

“The thing I make all the time is Chobani pancakes. I love pancakes. But sometimes breakfast is hard because I’m always trying to gain good weight, and pancakes are not the best things — especially when I need things like protein and fruit. But if I put Chobani in the pancake batter, it justifies having pancakes.” (See other recipes that call for Chobani yogurt here.)

If you couldn’t tell, the self-admitted chocoholic is always looking for ways to satisfy her sweet tooth. Take her favorite travel snack — trail mix — for instance. “Trail mix is great because I can put in some M&M’s or chocolate chips and it’s still an okay snack because of the nuts and stuff.”

Though thankfully she is not in a sport that she says has “super strict dieting, which is convenient for me.” But her sport does require her to travel a lot, which makes it hard for her to spend much time in the kitchen. “A pipedream I have is to own my own little bakery/cake shop down the road. But it’s not something I can do yet because of being in a different place almost every other week.”

 
Erin Hamlin poses for a portrait during the USOC portrait shoot on
April 27, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.

One of the places that she has spent a lot of time in recently is the host city of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. “I’d been to Moscow before,” she recalled, “but I was shocked when I first visited Sochi. I didn’t expect it to be so gorgeous. And I think because everyone focuses on how Sochi is like a subtropical climate and there are palm trees on the Black Sea — I didn’t think about these massive mountains that we’re going to be up in. It’s really pretty, and if it all comes together like they plan, it will be great.”

Unfortunately, Hamlin knows first-hand how not all well-laid plans come together. The 26-year-old is someone who has had a lot of ups and downs in her professional career since staring in 2005. Her first Olympic Games came in 2006 in Torino, where she placed 12th. But after winning gold in 2009 at World Championships — beating out the Germans who had taken the top spot for the previous 99 races — she was thought to be a top medal contender for Vancouver.  However her second Olympics did not see her fare any better, and she earned a disappointing 16th-place finish. It was also the year that the devastating and fatal accident of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili proved that the sport was not only difficult, but also extremely dangerous

She calls the track in Sochi “awesome,” but also “very different from anywhere else. The track is going to make it hard to go fast, so it’s all going to come down to all the tiny details — which makes you want to pull your hair out sometimes.” But she said she’s trying “not to think too far ahead.” Especially as this Olympics will be different. “Now that I’ve fallen off a little bit in competition the last couple of years, I don’t feel as much pressure. I have a lot of expectations for myself going in, and obviously I really want to come back strong. I’m putting a lot of work in to do that, but I don’t want to do anything too drastically different because I know what’s worked for me in the past — you know the whole, if it’s not broken don’t fix it? At the same time you never know what you’re capable of until you try. But I feel comfortable where I am in my career now and confident knowing what I have to do to be at my best.”

The world will be watching in nine months’ time to see if she’s found the perfect recipe for success.

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