New two slide onto team

Retrosi, Hamlin alter U.S. luge picture in gaining Olympic berths


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- With light snow falling and an American flag waving from a nearby hillside, Samantha Retrosi and Erin Hamlin claimed places on the U.S. Olympic luge team yesterday and signaled a changing of the guard.

The two young women from upstate New York, who train together on the Lake Placid track, parlayed their local knowledge into top-five finishes in World Cup competition and a trip to Turin, Italy, in February.

They grabbed their heads in disbelief and then hugged each other as their race results were announced.

"I'm having trouble processing this," said Retrosi, 20, as family and friends waved from the stands. "You have to dream. I did allow myself to do that. In order to get to the point where I believed that I could make it, I had to dream a little bit. ... It motivates you."

The veterans of the 2002 Winter Games - Ashley Hayden and Courtney Zablocki - finished 12th and 13th, respectively.

For Zablocki, who had already had one top-five finish this season, her performance was good enough. But for Hayden, 24, the best female slider on the U.S. team the past two seasons, the poor showing put an end to her Olympic plans.

Hayden left the track in tears as Zablocki stood alone, dabbing her eyes.

"It was a disappointing day, a bittersweet day," said Zablocki, 24. "Things are totally changing. It's going to be a lot different in Turin."

By contrast, the two younger women could barely contain their joy.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Hamlin, 19, a World Cup novice. "It's amazing. I'm young and I didn't expect to be here right now."

Retrosi is in her second season on the senior circuit but had never reached the top 10 in an event. With third-place and eighth-place runs, she finished fourth overall.

German mainstay Silke Kraushaar won her third World Cup event of the season to continue her nation's dominance of the women's event. German women have won all five events this year and hold the top three spots in the world rankings. The last time the Germans failed to win a World Cup event was Nov. 29, 1997.

Kraushaar said she had been worried that snow on the track would slow her and end the string of 60 victories.

"It can always happen," she said, smiling and shaking her head.

Kraushaar, the gold medalist in 1998 in Nagano and winner of the bronze four years ago in Salt Lake City, finished with a two-run time of 1 minute, 31.642 seconds. Italy's Anastasia Oberstolz-Antonova (1:31.923) was second and Germany's Anke Wischnewski (1:32.006) was third.

Despite a shaky performance and a 10th-place finish, the top U.S. men's doubles team of Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin secured its third appearance in the Winter Games with a win last week in Calgary, Alberta. What remains in doubt is which athletes will be selected as the second doubles team.

Going into yesterday's competition, Preston Griffal and Daniel Joye led in World Cup points, but a strong fourth-place showing by Christian Niccum and Pat Quinn coupled with a 12th-place finish by Griffal-Joye has forced a race-off Wednesday.

"That's the most pressure I've ever felt in my athletic career," said Quinn, a 39-year-old sports agent and former speed skater.

Defending Olympic champions Patric Leitner and Alexander Resch of Germany, won the event in 1:29.167. Christian Oberstolz and Patrick Gruber of Italy were second (1:29.692), followed by Gerhard Plankensteiner and Oswald Haselrieder (1:29.726) of Italy.

The men's singles competition will be held today. Tony Benshoof, ranked fourth in the world standings, has already secured one of three U.S. spots.

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