After several athletes retired following the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, U.S. Head Coach Tuffy Latour had the tough task of developing the next generation of athletes. He fostered a group of young athletes over the last three years, and more importantly, cultivated a sense of community among team members.
Noelle Pikus-Pace and Katie Uhlaender are the veterans of the U.S. skeleton squad, and the two women have joined forces to support one another in their individual quests for gold. Matt Antoine, John Daly and Kyle Tress have grown up together in the sport and the three young men support one another like brothers. With a supportive and positive environment, Team USA seems unbeatable. Pikus-Pace and Uhlaender often contest for gold at each stop, while the men are on the brink of reaching the medal stand.
Launched in 2009, a technology project has continued to advance the sleds, and Latour is certain the team will piece it all together in time for the Sochi Games. Protostar Engineering teamed with Machintek Corporation and deBotech to create Team USA’s sled for the Vancouver Games. Due to critical athlete feedback, the sled has since been improved and even helped Uhlaender win the 2012 world title.
The Sanki Sliding Center in Sochi is expected to favor the sliding style of Team USA, and has been called one of the most challenging tracks ever designed. Start times will be vital to a fast finish, and there are a few tricky curve combinations on the course that will require finesse. New ice preparation technology will ensure accurate and constant temperature control along the track, which can accommodate up to 9,000 spectators.
The maximum number of athletes the U.S. can qualify is three women and three men, with the final team set to be announced in January.
- Noelle Pikus-Pace was so close to having it all. The 2011 World Cup champion returned from a devastating injury after being struck by a bobsled prior to the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and found redemption by winning the 2007 world title by a historic margin. She was also the gold-medal favorite at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, but crossed the finish line just 0.10 seconds shy of the medal stand, finishing fourth. She announced her retirement after her final run, stating she was eager to focus on her family. After learning she was pregnant with her a third child in the spring of 2012, she was heartbroken to learn of her miscarriage at 18 weeks. Her husband encouraged her to get back on her sled, and she has already climbed the medal stand on the world cup tour in her bid for the 2014 Olympic Team with her husband, daughter and son in tow.
- Katie Uhlaender decided being the fastest woman in the world to compete on a skeleton sled wasn’t enough; she now wants to be the strongest. The two-time world cup champion, two-time Olympian and reigning world champion continues to train for both skeleton and weightlifting in hopes of becoming a medal contender at the Sochi and Rio Games.
- Husband and wife duo Brad Stewart and Kimber Gabryszak are making their bid for the Sochi Games together. Stewart encouraged his then girlfriend Gabryszak to try the sport while he was working at the Utah Olympic Park. The pair fell in love with each other and the sport, and both graced the podium during Intercontinental Cup races in the 2012-13 season.
- Protostar Engineering teamed with Machintek Corporation and deBotech in 2009 to create Team USA’s sleds for the Vancouver Games. Led by Dr. Grant Schaffner, acting president of Protostar Engineering, the project has continued to advance over the past few years and is poised to strengthen Team USA’s performance in Sochi. In addition to his role with Protostar, Schaffner also serves as an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Aerospace Systems. For his efforts, Schaffner was awarded the Doc Counsilman Science Award by the United States Olympic Committee in 2010 for his work on the skeleton technology program.
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Antoine battled back from knee surgery in the beginning of the 2012-13 season, and continues to lead the U.S. men’s team with consistent performances. Antoine missed qualifying for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, but has become one of the most reliable team members over the last four years en route to the Sochi Games.
A native of Long Island, N.Y., Daly is the boy next door, who has two settings: on and off. When Daly is on, it’s full throttle to the finish line. He is consistently on the brink of the medal stand with several fourth-place finishes on the world cup tour, and it’s just a matter of time before he breaks the barrier to lead the U.S. men’s team.
Pikus-Pace swept the U.S. national team selection races in her comeback season to earn a spot on the U.S. World Cup Team. She has medaled on the world cup, Intercontinental Cup and North American Cup tours, and is once again a strong contender for the gold medal in Sochi. With improved start times and greater strength and speed than ever before, Pikus-Pace is a threat from start to finish.
When the reigning world champion puts all the pieces together on race day, she’s unbeatable. There is a fine line between winning and losing, and Uhlaender throws caution to the wind every time she competes. She continues to wear her late father’s MLB National League Championship ring when she slides, and has battled back from more than a half-dozen surgeries to become a gold-medal favorite for 2014.
Nations will qualify based on international standings during the 2013-14 season. The U.S. is guaranteed one spot in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, but can qualify up to three spots in each gender based on points during the qualification period that ends Jan. 19, 2014. A total of 30 athletes will compete on the men’s side, while 20 will take part in the women’s competition.
The selection criteria will be finalized early in 2013, but athletes will likely qualify based on international points. For example, if the U.S. qualifies two women for the Games, then the top two U.S. women in international points will qualify for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team.
|Feb. 11-17||World Cup||Sochi, Russia|
|October||Team selection races||TBD|
|November-February||World Cup races|