In a good place

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Erin Hamlin won the women's singles world title in luge in 2009, but hasn't earned an Olympic medal yet.

Heading into a third Olympic Games is something I never expected to be doing. I was a surprise member of the Olympic luge team in 2006 because I was just a junior athlete at the time. Then in 2010, I was the world champion in women’s singles going into the Vancouver Olympics, so I was expected to be a medal contender.

This third time around, I feel like I’ve come full circle. I didn’t get on the podium this World Cup season, but finished in the top 10 in all but one race and ended up ranked sixth overall. This lands me somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and I have to say I'm more than OK with it.

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Erin Hamlin is the veteran of the team, at 27.

There’s less pressure and expectation going into Sochi than I felt in Vancouver. There’s no target on my back. And I have added experience, which makes me a tougher and more efficient competitor.

The past three months have been full of excitement, anxiety, stress, intense racing and, finally, the relief of earning an Olympic spot, for myself as well as fellow athletes. I also feel the heartbreak of close friends and teammates who didn’t make it onto the final Olympic roster.

The entire process -- this time more than the other two Olympic qualifications -- has reminded me of the passion, dedication and pure emotional devotion that we athletes have for our sports. And this is all before we even get to the world stage of Olympic competition. With that comes a whole new wave of excitement, intense racing, awesome free stuff -- and an overwhelming sense of pride.

I can see flashes of myself in my younger teammates who are heading for their first Olympic experience, and I can't wait to share all of the upcoming moments with them, and hopefully being able to help when I can. It seems like just yesterday I was only 19, walking into the Stadio Olimpico in Torino, somehow seeing and making eye contact with my family while celebrating the power of sport in bringing the world together. Now, at 27, I have become the veteran but remain just as ambitious and motivated as ever to proudly represent my family, my sport and, most important, the USA.

On that note, it only seems right that I passed through Torino en route to our pre-Olympic training after qualifying for this team in a World Cup in Whistler, Vancouver: My Olympic journey and the literal road to Sochi is looking very familiar. I can't wait to get on the track, put everything I've learned this season together and really see how fast I can go! Maybe the third time will be a charm ... to Russia with love!