LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Coming to the Lake Placid World Cup, Matt Antoine had won 10 world cup medals. Nine were bronze, one was gold. Plus his Olympic bronze medal from the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Now the 31-year-old skeleton athlete has a silver medal for his collection.
With temperatures hovering around -20 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the track at Lake Placid’s Olympic Sports Complex, Antoine slid two clean runs and moved from third into second place after Sungbin Yun from Korea had a tough second run. Antoine’s time of 1:46.92 gave him the silver medal ahead of Yun, who lost over a quarter second on the bottom of the track and finished in 1:46.94 — still good enough for third place.
Neither slider could catch defending Olympic gold medalist Alexander Tretiakov, who hit the wall in the track’s tricky chicane and threw sparks on his first run. Still, he finished the run just 0.11 seconds off Antoine’s track record and ended the race with two-run time of 1:46.49 for the win.
“I was sliding pretty consistent all week,” Antoine said. “And on the whole I’m pretty happy with my runs, a couple small mistakes, that I’d like to clean up. I don’t know if it would have made a difference in my result. But on the whole, I’m pretty pleased with today.”
The usually-dominant Dukurs brothers — Martins and Tomass from Latvia — struggled on the Lake Placid track, with Martins sliding through the bottom of the track on his back in his first run. He still managed to finish fifth, one place behind Tomass.
A 16-year veteran in skeleton, Antoine is looking to regain the form that carried him to the Olympic podium in 2014. Last season was a rollercoaster, and he did not win one medal on the world cup. He finished fourth a couple of times, but he also finished 15th a couple of times. The previous season, he only finished on the podium twice.
Every race, he felt as if he were fighting a physical and mental battle.
His slide in results began two summers ago, when he decided to “change things up and get a fresh perspective.” He moved to Arizona and began a new strength program. But he did not get the results that he wanted, and it showed in his start times on the track.
This past summer, he undid the change. He returned to working with Jon Carlock, the strength coach with whom he had trained in the 10 years leading up to the Sochi Games. Now, his push starts are back where he wants them — although he is still a tenth of a second slower at the start than either Tretiakov or Yun.
“It gives you a lot of confidence heading into the season,” Antoine said. “Just having that push start back at the beginning, and more confidence has been a big change from last year.”
At the Whistler World Cup two weeks ago — the first world cup of the season — Antoine finished third. He has not started the season with two consecutive podium finishes since the Olympic season. Now, after two world cups, he sits in third overall, just 15 points behind Yun and 25 off Tretiakov.
“He’s stronger, he’s faster, he’s a lot more competitive at the start,” said Tuffy Latour, head skeleton coach. “It put him in a great position. Together with some other stuff we’ve been doing [with his sled], we’re really excited about where Matt is right now.”
Neither Antoine nor his coaches regret his efforts to try a different off-season program. Antoine discovered what does — and does not — work for him.
“You don’t know until you fall on your face sometimes,” he said.
And it refocused him.
“Matt holds himself to a really high standard and last year was a little bit of an off year,” said coach Zach Lund, a 2010 Olympian. “I think it was a good thing for him because it refocused him and made him work really hard over the summer. He’s coming in to this season really hungry to get some momentum going into next year.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.