Erin Hamlin's family has bought tickets to the Sochi Olympics. Flights are booked, schedules are set and her most ardent supporters are ready to spend February in Russia.
One detail remains: Hamlin needs to make the team.
Hamlin isn't far removed from being luge's world champion, yet still heads into this Olympic season knowing that her third straight trip to her sport's biggest stage is not yet guaranteed. Her season — her drive toward Sochi — essentially begins Friday night in Lake Placid, N.Y., where USA Luge holds its last major event for the team before on-ice training starts in Norway this month.
"There are quite a few of us, and any of us could end up on the team," said Hamlin, a native of Remsen, N.Y. "My sights right now are basically are on making the team, so I can't really let myself fully think about Sochi yet because I might not even be there."
Hamlin and Julia Clukey are expected to lead the U.S. this season, but Emily Sweeney and Kate Hansen also should be in serious contention for an Olympic spot. No more than three U.S. women will be in the singles at Sochi.
"It's like an anxious excitement," Hamlin said. "I definitely don't feel like I have a locked spot, absolutely not. Eight years ago when I was the new kid, 18 years old, there were older girls who were supposed to be on the team and I took that spot. I'm now in the opposite position and I know how easily that can happen. So I'm not letting that escape my brain."
Hamlin's first Olympics were in Turin in 2006, where she finished 12th. She won the world title in 2009 on her home Lake Placid track, and was expected to be a medal contender the following year at the Vancouver Olympics.
A Georgian men's slider crashed in a training run and died just hours before the opening ceremony in Vancouver. Officials moved the sled starts farther down the track, trying to limit the possibility of another disaster.
Hamlin didn't like the move, which affected the women's competition more than perhaps any other. She finished 16th. She remembers saying to herself halfway through her final run at the Whistler Sliding Center while navigating her way feet-first down the ice: "This is not how I'm ending a career."
"It's very motivating," Hamlin said, referring to her result at Vancouver.
At Sochi, Germans will be favored to win everything because in luge Germans are always favored to win everything. There have been 39 medals awarded in Olympic women's competition; 26 have gone to Germans, zero to Americans.
Hamlin was seventh in a World Cup at the 2014 Olympic track last season, finishing about four-tenths of a second from third place. She was also the top American in that field.
"In my mind, I'm still racing against the world," she said. "Yeah, I'm training around my teammates all the time, but I'm not looking to beat them. I'm looking to beat the Germans."
Hamlin's offseason flew by, much to her chagrin. She trained with Sochi always in mind and took some classes to stimulate her mind. True vacation time was in short supply.
On Friday, she races against the clock for the first time this season. Unlike 2010, big expectations aren't on her shoulders.
"It's almost a little bit more satisfying when people don't think you can accomplish something and you do," she said. "I don't mind not being the center of the spotlight, for sure. I'm OK with doing my thing and coming from behind when I need to."