Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Luge athlete Erin Hamlin holds the American flag at a press conference in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
It’s definitely a surprise, a shock. —U.S. luge athlete Erin Hamlin

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – When a young Erin Hamlin and her brothers used to gather in front of the television during Olympic opening ceremonies, they watched anxiously to see which athlete would carry the Team USA flag.

Two days before her fourth Olympic Games, the 31-year-old native of Remsen, New York, was shocked to learn her American teammates chose the luge athlete to lead the 2018 delegation in Pyeongchang.

“It’s definitely a surprise, a shock,” she said, unable to keep the smile off her face as reporters peppered her with questions. “I was not expecting it at all.”

In fact, when she got the text from Olympic officials when she arrived home after dinner Wednesday night, she wondered what was wrong.

“I was thinking all these bad things,” she said laughing. “It took a minute to actually sink in that it was the real deal.”

Hamlin made history at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where she became the first U.S. athlete to win an Olympic singles luge medal in the sport’s 50-year Olympic history. In fact, she hadn't made a podium on the World Cup circuit in two years leading up to her bronze medal in Sochi. She and her teammates swept the podium this year in Lake Placid, so expectations are much different for her and the American women in 2018.

Hamlin said it’s moving to contemplate the honor and what it means to her, her family and her hometown.

“It is already emotional,” she said. “Winning a medal is about the time and effort and work you put it. It’s all on me; it’s something I’ve done. …Getting this honor is different because it’s people looking in, my fellow Team USA athletes who gave me this. So it means a ton because they’re athletes who do the same thing I do.” Hamlin knew she’d been selected by the luge team to represent them in the Team USA voting. But she was shocked to learn she would be the fourth luge athlete to represent the U.S. as a flag bearer.

When she called her family to let them know, they were just preparing to board a flight to South Korea.

“My mom started bawling instantly,” Hamlin said laughing. “I said, ‘You’ve got to try and hold it together because you can’t tell anybody yet.’ They’re still flying, so I haven’t really gotten to experience it with them.”

She admitted she’s nervous as the world will be watching, and she hopes she doesn’t “trip over my own feet.”

Her brother did offer her some advice.

“The first thing (my brother) said is 'Don’t drop the flag,'" Hamlin said. “Thanks for that pointer, brother.”