Utahn Pikus-Pace slides to bronze in first World Cup race in skeleton comeback
Published: December 7, 2012 04:11PM
Updated: December 8, 2012 12:09AM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Noelle Pikus-Pace, USA, Women's Skeleton, at the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, Thursday, February 18, 2010.

That didn’t take long.

Skeleton slider Noelle Pikus-Pace won a bronze medal on Friday in her first World Cup race since returning to her sport following a 21/2-year retirement, finishing behind Great Britain’s Shelley Rudman and Germany’s Anja Huber in Winterberg, Germany — the site of her first-ever World Cup medal eight years ago.

“I’m thrilled to be back in the medals,” the Orem native and Eagle Mountain resident said. “After team trials I knew where I was situated, and I started to set my sights high. I feel better than ever, and it’s so great to be sharing this experience with my family this time around.”

Just six months after deciding to return, Pikus-Pace has raised enough money to have her husband and two small children travel with her on the World Cup circuit — her personal requirement to return to the harrowing, head-first-and-face-down sliding sport in which she finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

With the strong finish on Friday, it’s clear that Pikus-Pace will be a strong medal contender at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia, where it’s hard to forecast a clear-cut favorite. Different women have won each of the four World Cup races so far this season.

“The entire run I just thought, ‘Be as aerodynamic as possible,’ doubting I was even going to get a second run,” Pikus-Pace said. “When I was within medal position at the finish, I thought, ‘Wow, I still have a shot.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

The former Mountain View High School and Utah Valley University standout didn’t think she would qualify for the second run because her sled popped out of the start groove and bumped into the wall before the first corner.

Nevertheless, she was in fourth place after the first run — the top 20 earn a second — just 0.04 seconds out of third. She made up the time in the second run, finishing with a combined time of 1 minute, 57.40 seconds.

“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “I just wish I could go back and do that start in the first run again, but it leaves me wanting more for the next race.”

Rudman shattered the track record by more than a half-second in her second run, clocking 58.06 seconds for a two-run total of 1:56.30. Huber clocked 1:57.29 for second, while American Katie Uhlaender also popped out of the groove at the start and missed qualifying for a second run by finishing just 21st in the first.