Katie Uhlaender competes in the second heat of the women's skeleton World Cup on Nov. 16, 2012, in Park City, Utah.
|Uhlaender poses with the late Ted Uhlaender's National Championship
PARK CITY, Utah - It’s official: Katie Uhlaender is back on track.
After nearly four years of overcoming countless surgeries and the death of her father, Major League Baseball outfielder Ted Uhlaender, Uhlaender has returned to her winning ways. She struck gold Friday at the second World Cup of the season.
“I felt like my father was with me and I just kept thinking of him and Dave Dinger [Utah Olympic Park track manager who died in 2010] and focused on what I had to do and let everything fall into place,” Uhlaender said. “Tried not to think too much about results and just do what I knew how to do.”
The win was historic for Uhlaender, who last earned World Cup gold in February 2008 in Königssee, Germany, and has not won a race on the Park City track – the 2002 Olympic venue – since December 2007. This win also marked an important step in Uhlaender’s return to the podium, both physically and emotionally.
Uhlaender quickly began to excel in her sport after a sixth-place finish at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, earning the title of overall World Cup champion in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. On Feb. 12, 2009, Uhlaender earned World Cup silver in Park City. After that race, she was informed that her father had died during the competition. Ted Uhlaender, who spent eight seasons competing with the Twins, Indians and Reds, was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2008 and passed away after suffering a heart attack at his home in Atwood, Kan.
Until Friday, Uhlaender had not medaled on that track since that day in 2009.
“That’s another thing that just is solidifying that I’m finally able to let go of the fact that he’s not here and I just really want to keep his legacy alive,” Uhlaender said of her first Park City medal in almost four years. “All he wanted when he was alive was for me to win, so that’s my goal: win for dad.”
Two weeks after Ted’s death, Uhlaender competed in the 2009 FIBT World Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. She finished a disappointing seventh place; it was the first time she had not medaled at a competition in Lake Placid.
The world championships returned to Lake Placid in February 2012. Uhlaender led after three of the four heats and ultimately earned her first world title, completing her world championships medal collection (she earned silver in 2008 and bronze in 2007).
A mere 10 days after winning worlds, she competed at 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Weightlifting. While she did not make the team, Uhlaender has made an impressive effort since first becoming a dual sport athlete in 2010, earning bronze at the 2011 national championships and silver at the 2011 American Open. Uhlaender continues to train in weightlifting five days a week and will compete at next summer’s national championships with the goal of making her first world team.
“Winning world championships was breaking the curse because that’s where it all went downhill for me – when my father passed away and I had to compete at worlds,” she said. “I won a silver here the day he died and now I’m back to winning.
“Everywhere I go it’s nice to finally get that monkey off my back, where I’m not thinking of him not being there but more thinking of him being with me on the sled,” Uhlaender said.
Ted Uhlaender is with Katie during competition in more ways than one. In addition to thinking about him every day, Katie wears her father’s National League Championship ring when she races and has one of his baseball cards taped to her sled.
The next monumental competition will come quickly for Uhlaender. Next week, the World Cup moves to Whistler, British Columbia, the site of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The final day of the skeleton competition at the Games marked the one-year anniversary of Ted Uhlaender’s funeral. Uhlaender ultimately finished 11th, reeling from both her father’s recent passing and a shattered kneecap suffered after a snowmobile accident in April 2009. If all goes according to plan, she will earn her first Whistler World Cup medal on Nov. 23.
The World Cup will then move to Europe for the remaining six stops on the circuit, concluding with a test event on the newly constructed Sochi 2014 Olympic track.
“I pretty much like every track,” Uhlaender said. “I just adapt to every track I go to and it’s fun to find speed in every corner.
“I’ve won on a lot of different tracks – I’ve won in Königssee, I’ve won in St. Moritz, I’ve gotten silver in Altenberg, silver in Igls, won in Nagano. Give me a track man, let’s do this!”