'Maybe the men are scared to be beaten by the girls': Olympian Erin Hamlin on sexism in sports

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle
Photo: Getty Images/Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle
Photo: Getty Images/Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle

During the Opening Ceremony for the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, four-time Olympian Erin Hamlin led Team USA in the Parade of Nations. Despite Shani Davis expressing his frustration for losing the honor in a coin toss on Twitter, the most decorated U.S. singles luge slider in history didn’t let the backlash get her down, smiling throughout the entire event.

The 31-year-old’s unswerving persistence throughout the controversy isn’t unique to this one situation. “I’ve never felt held back because I am a woman,” Hamlin says — except for the time at a race when the women got kicked out of the start for no reason.

Hamlin’s teammates tell similar tales of facing sexism as women in sports, which is all too prevalent. As her fellow luger Summer Britcher, 23, who competed in the 2014 Sochi Games as the youngest woman on her team, admits, “One time, I was training in Lake Placid, and an old man wandered in and said, ‘Oh, they let women do this?’ I was annoyed with that.”

Emily Sweeney, 24, a first-time Olympian, says, “Women have the same skills and confidence as men.” And for these three competitors, that’s especially important considering ice luging is a no-joke sport — athletes lie down on a flat sled, then push off feet-first down an ice track at speeds up to 90 miles an hour, with no breaks or the ability to use their hands.

The fierce lugers talk with Yahoo Lifestyle about their grueling diets and why Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres are feminist icons.

Ice luging is considered one of the most extreme Olympic sports. Are you guys natural thrill seekers?

Summer: I’ve always been a speed demon from the time I was little. On vacations, my dad would yell at me for speeding down [the mountain] while skiing. Or when I’d get on my bike, I’d want to go as fast as possible. I am not afraid of heights, but when it comes to being airborne or jumping into water, I am a big wuss. 

Erin: I was a complete wimp as a kid. I was adventurous, but I wasn’t into crazy rides at the fair or going fast. My mom loves saying that when I was little, we were camping somewhere with Alpine slides, like a little luge run, and I was excited, but I refused to go on it. I screamed and made a scene, and my mom was worried someone would think I was being kidnapped. Now the Alpine slide is essentially what I do, but on steroids. 

Emily: Being the youngest of three kids, I was trying to keep up with my siblings, which always got me injured in some way. That forced me to be more adventurous than my peers, but looking back, I was never crazy. I enjoyed some roller coasters and other adrenaline-type rides.

Is luging considered a male sport? Do you ever receive sexist remarks about being a female athlete?

Summer: I don’t think luging is considered a male sport, but I have experienced sexism. One time, I was training in Lake Placid, and an old man wandered in and said, “Oh, they let women do this?” I was annoyed with that.

Erin: I’ve never felt held back because I am a woman. There are not a lot of female coaches in our world, and I would love that to change, because the way we’d relate to a female coach is different. It’s a different mindset. The biggest disappointment I’ve experienced was at a race when the women got kicked out of our start for no reason. Maybe the men are scared to be beaten by the girls.

Emily: Women have the same skills and confidence as men. Overall, I have experienced more sexism outside of the sport than inside it. But we are in spandex all the time, and luge isn’t a flattering sport. We wear lead vests and neck straps. It doesn’t give you a flattering figure!

What is the diet of a luger?

Summer: During the off-season, it’s easier to have control over your diet. Over the summer, I was trying to gain weight. I wouldn’t force myself to eat too much during the day, but I had a protein smoothie before bed each night. On the road, the food isn’t always appetizing and eating can be a chore, so it’s nice when we can stay in a condo and make our own food. I make a lot ice cream smoothies, which are delicious. I would recommend them to anyone. Mix fresh fruit, yogurt, bananas, and ice cream. It’s different than a milkshake! But my teammates gave me grief for it.

Erin: Luge is a unique sport in that we want to be heavy. We’re not super-strict on cutting out or counting calories with the goal of limiting them. We’re trying to put on weight and muscle mass and be heavy, but we still want to feel good. During training, we consume enough calories so we won’t burn more than we take in. And we eat lean protein. I don’t eliminate anything completely. I have a colorful plate, and as my mom would say, “Everything in moderation.” I also love ice cream.

Emily: I eat a lot of salads, chicken, and pasta. But during the season, we’re at the mercy of the hotels we stay in. And sometimes we lose weight, which is a bummer. In the cafeteria, I’ll sit next to a bobsled girl who has to eat spinach and I have four plates in front of me. It’s as hard for me to eat it as it is for her to not eat it.

How do you practice self-care, especially on your days off?

Summer: I give myself “spa nights,” where I lounge in my robe, drink wine, wear a face mask, and give myself a pedicure. I am a diva, and I look ridiculous in my robe. I also take quiet time. We’re so busy and we share bedrooms, so taking a few moments to read or a few hours to be alone helps me recharge. 

Erin: I spend the off-season in my hometown at my parents’ house. They have a deck where I do yoga, a pond, and horses. But my mom limits my riding because she doesn’t want me to get hurt. 

Emily: I feel my best when I’m by a body of water or a mountain. We live in Lake Placid, so after training I’ll sit by the lake and read. But while we’re training, we’re inside a lot and we don’t get much sun. I am a sun-seeker, so if I have a few minutes I’ll go outside, close my eyes, and feel the sun on my face. Or I eat Ben & Jerry’s.

In December, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn told CNN, “I hope to represent the people of the United States, not the president.” Who are you representing at the Olympics?

Summer: Lindsey got a lot of hate for that comment, and I felt for her because she’s my role model. I don’t think it matters — four years ago, no one was representing a president. That’s the wonderful thing about the United States. I am representing my family, friends, and myself.

Erin: I don’t agree with what [Trump] stands for, but I am an American and I will stand by every person who supports our team. I am honored to represent them. Especially those in my hometown and people who have cheered me on forever. It’s a unique situation — our government doesn’t fund our team, so there shouldn’t be political ties to the Olympics. I represent every person who has gotten me here.

Emily: I was 14 when I started competing in luge, so my level of patriotism is corn. I am excited to represent the U.S.A. and all that encompasses. I’m there for my family and friends and my country.  

Who are the woman inspiring you most right now?

Summer: Sloane Stephens, who won the U.S. Open. 

Erin: Billie Jean King is a rock star, and the Women’s Sports Foundation has been amazing for female athletes and for motivating girls to get into sports. I’m in awe of her and how ballsy she is. And Michelle Obama — she’s awesome.

Emily: I admire all the women that we’re surrounded by at the training center. There are so many women pushing boundaries in sports every day. Also, I am a sucker for Ellen DeGeneres. She makes me happy. If I’m in a bad mood, all I have to do is watch an Ellen video. 

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