ALTENBERG, Germany (Jan. 4, 2013)-The U.S. women’s skeleton team kicked off the New Year with silver and bronze medal performances in the Altenberg, Germany World Cup event today. Katie Uhlaender (Breckenridge, Colo.) finished just 0.01 seconds shy of gold in second place, while Noelle Pikus-Pace (Orem, Utah) moved up in the final run to claim bronze.
“Overall it was a good day because we’re walking away with two medals for Team USA,” Uhlaender. “I’m happy, especially considering what was happening to other people because of the weather.”
Steady rain created sloppy track conditions, leaving no room for driving errors if athletes wanted to be in medal contention. Uhlaender had a strong lead of 0.17 seconds after sliding a smooth first run of 1:00.12. She and teammate Pikus-Pace, who was fourth with a time of 1:00.40, were up against Germans Anja Huber and Marion Thees in the race for the medals in the final run.
Despite watching several competitors fall back in the second heat due to deteriorating conditions, Pikus-Pace attacked the track with precision and posted a combined time of 2:02.87 to at least maintain her position. Huber, the 2008 World Champion from Altenberg, was up next. Huber made some crucial mistakes that bumped her down into fifth position and moved Pikus-Pace up into third. Pikus-Pace’s best finish on the harrowing German track before today was ninth.
“The curse of the ninth place has been broken,” Pikus-Pace said. “Woohoo, and that’s said with some extra ‘o’s’ on the end of it because I am so excited.”
Two-time world champion Thees laid down a speedy second run to keep her lead over Pikus-Pace with a total time of 2:02.59. Uhlaender was the last competitor to take to the ice, and was en route to her third victory of the season until a mistake in the 360-degree Kreisel corner scrubbed speed from her run. Uhlaender looked deflated as she crossed the finish line in 2:02.60, just 0.01 seconds short of winning gold.
“I wasn’t even sure I was still on the podium after missing my steer in Kreisel,” Uhlaender said. “I could have run away with the race if I hadn’t missed that second pressure. It definitely cost me.”
“I know Katie was disappointed, but I’m proud of her and it was really good to see two U.S. flags raised today,” Pikus-Pace said. “Our team camaraderie is better than it’s ever been, which makes us an even stronger force to be reckoned with.”
Both Uhlaender and Pikus-Pace opted to stay in Europe during the holiday break to avoid jetlag going into the second half of the season. The time away from home paid off. Read about how Uhlaender spent her holiday training and racing in her Team USA blog here.
“It’s definitely hard being away for Christmas, but I was fortunate to have my husband and children here with me,” Pikus-Pace. “Our purpose for being here is to race, so we were ready to make some sacrifices. We were looking forward to the season picking up again, and I think our team is really strong heading into World Championships in a couple weeks.”
Racing in Altenberg continues tomorrow with the men’s skeleton event at 1 p.m. local time. Watch the race live by clicking on the “Video” tab on the official USA Bobsled & Skeleton website at http://www.usbsf.com.
1. Marion Thees (GER) 2:02.59 (1:00.35, 1:02.24); 2. Katie Uhlaender (USA) 2:02.60 (1:00.12, 1:02.48); 3. Noelle Pikus-Pace (USA) 2:02.87 (1:00.40, 1:02.47);