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America's new pastime: luge?

The US is enjoying unprecedented success in winter sports where it has long struggled, raising hopes for medals in the 2010 Olympics.

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SPEED QUEEN: Lindsey Vonn, newly crowned World Cup champion, has high hopes for Vancouver.

elvis piazzi/ap

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Vancouver, watch out.

With a year until the 2010 Olympics open, US athletes are doing historic things. During the past two Winter Games, America has plundered Olympic success by cashing in on new events such as snowboarding and mogul skiing. This winter, however, America is at last making inroads into the sports that make up the core of the winter program – that curious collection of events, from biathlon to Nordic combined, that inspire wild cowbell ringing among Europeans.

The luge, for example, could stake no claim to being America's pastime. Germany's pastime, perhaps. Until this winter, German women had won 99 consecutive international events over more than a decade. American luger Erin Hamlin stopped the streak short of 100, winning the most important event of this year's calendar, the World Championships. It was the first medal for a US woman in the sport.

Hamlin's achievement is only one example of American emergence this year as a more powerful and well-rounded force in winter Olympic sports.

•On Saturday, alpine skier Lindsey Vonn became the first American woman to win back-to-back overall World Cup titles, an award intended to designate the world's best skier.

•In the Nordic combined, which combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing, the US team dominated the World Championships – taking two medals in one race. America has never won a Nordic combined Olympic medal.

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