Everyone knew coming into the Sochi Games that the Valentine’s Day skeleton run could likely be the final for Team USA’s Noelle Pikus-Pace. The 31-year-old mother of two was ready to start the next phase of her life - but not until she felt the precious weight of an Olympic medal around her neck.
After a tumultuous ride to the Olympic podium that has been more than eight years in the making, Pikus-Pace finally found her silver lining.
“I remember a blink of an eye ago I was in Vancouver finishing fourth,” said Pikus-Pace, who missed out on the Vancouver podium by a mere .10 of a second. “Now here I am with the silver medal.”
At the end of Pikus-Pace’s first run Thursday, she was in third place behind Great Britain’s Elizabeth Yarnold and Russia’s Elena Nikitina. But Pikus-Pace had a strong second run to pull in front of Nikitina, and on the third and fourth runs Friday, she clinched the silver medal. When she finished her final run, she knew exactly what she wanted to see on the board.
“I thought I messed up a little on curves five and six,” said Pikus-Pace. “But all I wanted to see was a ‘2’ next to my name.”
The Orem, Utah, native finished with a total time of 3:53.86, which was 0.97 of a second behind winner Yarnold and 0.44 of a second ahead of bronze medalist Nikitina.
Pikus-Pace has had a career altered by serious injury. She has dealt with numerous complications due to a 2005 compound fracture to her right leg, suffered as a result of a freak bobsled accident. The titanium rod inserted in order to help stabilize the limb caused problems during her preparation for Vancouver. She also revealed that she suffered a concussion in the last week, causing her to miss training time.
None of that seemed to faze Pikus-Pace, who became the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in skeleton since 2002, which marked Team USA’s seventh skeleton medal of all-time - the most by any country.
“I hope that I can leave an example for others,” Pikus-Pace said about her legacy. “I hope that I can show somebody out there that’s watching this crazy sport of skeleton that they too can be up here one day. Maybe there’s a 15-year-old girl somewhere that says, ‘You know, skeleton looks really fun. I want to be just like that. I want to do that. I want to win a gold medal.’ I hope that I inspire others to come out, try this sport and see what they have.”
Reminiscent of Pikus-Pace’s near-podium finish in Vancouver, Team USA’s Katie Uhlaender narrowly missed the podium by 0.04 of a second.
"I put everything I had into it and my teammate is on the medal stand,” said Uhlaender. “One out of two ain't bad. I worked really hard with a lot of people to get here and my heart is broken."
Even though Pikus-Pace is ready to move on from skeleton, she will continue to encourage Uhlaender.
“I’ll always support Katie in everything that she does,” Pikus-Pace said.
Pikus-Pace will now return to Utah to support her family and her community. She is looking forward to being a PTA member, among other things. She’s not even considering leaving the door open for another comeback — this is it.
"I stood up there knowing this was the last run of my career,” she said. “I just tried to have fun with it."