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Noelle Pikus-Pace Finds Redemption In Park City

By Brandon Penny | Dec. 06, 2013, 6:35 p.m. (ET)

Noelle Pikus-Pace starts her first run at the Viessmann IBSF Bobsled & Skeleton World Cup event at Utah Olympic Park Dec. 6, 2013 in Park City, Utah.

PARK CITY, Utah – Noelle Pikus-Pace knows the meaning of redemption.

One week after being disqualified in a race where she had the fastest time, the 2010 Olympian won the women’s skeleton world cup Friday in Park City, Utah, in record-setting fashion.

In her first run, Pikus-Pace shattered the Park City track’s 12-year-old record by 0.11 seconds. Then the Park City resident broke her own track record in the second run by 0.06 seconds. Her two-run total was 1:39.54 (49.80, 49.74).

“I’ve been chasing this record for 15 years,” said Pikus-Pace, who learned to slide on this track. “Now to lay it down on what could most definitely be my last run on this track is something very special to me, my husband, who built my amazing sled this year, and to all the sponsors. It’s just been an incredible ride.”

Noelle Pikus-Pace runs toward her family after winning the world
cup on Dec. 6, 2013 in Park City, Utah.

Pikus-Pace retired from the sport after finishing fourth at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and missing out on a medal by 0.10 seconds. But she returned last season and had one of the most successful seasons of her career, including five world cup medals in the six events she entered, as well as a silver medal at the world championships.

The 30-year-old, who now travels the world cup circuit with her husband and two children, started the 2014 Olympic season last Friday with what she thought was a win. Pikus-Pace’s two-run total in Calgary was 0.12 seconds faster than Great Britain’s Elizabeth Yarnold. However, a post-race inspection found a sled violation and the U.S. skeleton racer was disqualified. The violation was a piece of tape on the sled’s handle, which U.S. assistant coach Zach Lund described as the size of a nickel.

Lund said the tape did not give her a competitive advantage, and according to a photo Pikus-Pace posted on Facebook later that day, the tape was on her sled when it passed inspection earlier in the week. But the disqualification was upheld, and Pikus-Pace entered the Park City race with no world cup points and the last start.

“I know that I have integrity,” she said. “And I know that I would never do anything to jeopardize that or that of those who support me. My integrity means everything to me. I know when I compete, I compete fair and I compete clean. Whether I win, whether I don’t win, I know that I’ve given it my best and I can sleep well at night, knowing I’m doing it the right way.”

Pikus-Pace said she was motivated at the start of her second run by two factors: 1) The group of Pikus-Pace supporters who were holding up giant cutouts of her face, and 2) A U.S. teammate’s success one hour earlier.

“To see Matt Antoine lay down the runs that he had, and for him to have a podium finish, it was just inspiring me for my second run,” she said.

Antoine finished third in the men’s competition with a two-run total of 1:37.73 (48.95, 48.78), just 0.14 seconds behind winner Alexander Tretiakov of Russia. Latvia’s Martins Dukurs was second with 1:37.71.

This was the third career world cup medal for Antoine, who took bronze in Whistler, British Columbia, in February 2009 and bronze in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in January 2012. He had knee surgery in summer 2012 and has been struggling to return to top form ever since.

Matt Antoine (right) and U.S. assistant skeleton coach Zach Lund
celebrate Antoine's bronze-medal performance.

“Last season was really rough,” Antoine said. “I had my surgery in the middle of the summer so I didn’t really start training until the season began. … This summer was nice; I could finally head into the summer training fully, no problems. I worked a lot on getting my push back, but also getting my confidence back.

“I knew the sliding was still there. (I’ve been) working with the coaches, working with sports psychologists — just getting my mind back in the right set. I came out firing this year, and I want to get back to not only where I was, but better.”

Antoine had a strong start to the season in Calgary last week, where he was fourth after the first run but ultimately finished seventh. Going into the Park City race, Antoine and the U.S. coaches worked on his push, switched to a new set of runners on his sled and changed the plan for the season. The steel runners of a skeleton sled are crucial to an athlete’s performance since they are the only part of the sled that is in contact with the ice.

“I got together with the coaches and we devised a plan where we’re going for broke,” he said. “I don’t want to play it conservative. We got aggressive this week. … And I feel like it paid off today. We’re trying to push me out of my comfort zone a bit, and it paid off today.”

Katie Uhlaender, who continues to deal with side effects from suffering a concussion in October, finished 14th in the women’s race. Kyle Tress and John Daly went 15 and 16, respectively, in the men’s race.

All five U.S. skeleton athletes are expected to be back on the track when the world cup moves to Lake Placid, N.Y., Dec. 13-15.

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Noelle Pikus-Pace

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Matt Antoine