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California dreamin' on Sochi winter's day

Kate Hansen of the U.S. speeds down the track during the women's luge training at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the S
Kate Hansen of the U.S. speeds down the track during the women's luge training at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the S

By Justin Palmer

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - For Californian surfing fanatic Kate Hansen, competing in luge is almost as good as riding the perfect wave. Almost - she is still a beach girl at heart.

The 21-year-old from Los Angeles will make her Olympic debut when the women's singles starts on Monday.

"I'm in the water whenever I can be. It's strangely very similar, surfing is like reading the wave. Every wave is different, just like every (luge) curve is different," she told Reuters.

"With sliding you want to get the most even line and it's kind of the same with surfing. It's all about reacting.

"The same line isn't going to work every time, just like the same wave isn't going to work every time. It's all about adjusting and making it as smooth possible."

Hansen, who secured a first World Cup win last month - the first American since 1997 to do so - thought her dreams of becoming an Olympian had been dashed when she fractured in her foot during team selection races in October.

Recalling her training run crash at her home track in Park City, Utah, the Brigham Young University student said: "I took a turn wrong and hit the hardest wall of my life. And it hurt so bad. I came out the other end crying.

"The dream was done for me. At least for a day. I just decided I was going to cry all day and when I woke up the next morning I was going to act like nothing had happened, and that's just what I did."

She "just went for it" and was back on the sled two days later, competing in pain and needing crutches to get around.

"I raced three of four World Cups (races) with a broken foot. I was on crutches for a lot of our travelling in Europe and it was terrible," she said.

Her dedication to her sport - she was identified by a recruitment programme at the tender age of 10 as somehow perfect for luge - paid off when she triumphed in the final World Cup race of the season in Sigulda, Latvia.

Topping the podium that day gave her the belief that she could achieve more.

"I still feel the same level, but I guess I just didn't think it was possible," she said.

"So now I definitely think I'm not going to short circuit myself. In my head, honestly, anything is possible.

"I'm not expecting some huge win but I wouldn't be surprised if something happened."

The U.S. has won only four medals in Olympic luge since it was introduced in 1964, all in doubles - two silver and two bronze, and Hansen is realistic about her prospects.

"I would love a top 10-finish, I think I can handle that."

Hansen knows that she, and the rest of the luge world for that matter, still lag some way behind the Germans who dominate the sport.

"The German girls are physically strong and their starts are just super-fast," she admitted. "We could have faster starts, that would help, but they're great drivers - they have been doing it since they came out of the womb."

Still, she is soaking up every moment of her first Olympic experience, even if it means a little more pain.

"I had to stand a lot so the foot's a bit sore," she said of attending the opening ceremony.

"But it's been an awesome ride so far."

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

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