In what she hopes is a sign of things to come, Utah’s Noelle Pikus-Pace led a 1-2 American finish Saturday in a season-ending World Cup women’s skeleton race on the track that will be used for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia next year.
“I can’t believe it,” Pikus-Pace said. “I’m going to take this all in now, but I know next year will be a different story. I have to wipe the slate clean and give it my best, and hopefully my best will be better than everyone else’s so I’m back on the podium a year from now.”
It was the second victory of the season for Pikus-Pace, who amazingly has medaled in five of the past six World Cup races in her first year back in competition after a 2 ½-year retirement.
Two-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender of Colorado finished second.
An Orem native and Eagle Mountain resident, the 30-year-old Pikus-Pace finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in Canada, then retired to raise her two children. But she decided to make a comeback this season, with her husband and kids traveling with her around Europe on the World Cup circuit.
She has made herself one of the favorites to win gold next year in Sochi, and blazed through her second run in Ryzhanaya Polyana on Saturday to overtake Uhlaender with a two-run combined time of 1 minutes, 58.91 seconds - 0.11 seconds faster than her teammate.
“This is such an exciting moment,” Pikus-Pace said. “Katie and I on the podium together shows how strong we are going into the Olympic season, and a lot of that can be attributed to a great coaching staff and amazing support. This definitely gives me confidence going into next season and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do a year from now.”
Uhlaender had the fastest time of the first run while Pikus-Pace made some driving mistakes, but Pikus-Pace turned things around in the second run. She had the fastest time in the field, while Uhlaender lost time with a mistake in one of the corners.
“I missed my drive in corner 11 and I knew it would be tough to catch Noelle after that,” Uhlaender said. “I’m really pumped though, because USA finished one-two. I want to leave something in the tank for next year, and the next fastest person is my teammate. We work really well together, and I think we’re going to really challenge our competitors when we’re back next season for the Olympics.”
Germany’s Anja Huber finished third in 1:59.78, a distant 0.87 behind Pikus-Pace.
Park City’s Steven Holcomb finished a disappointing 12th in the two-man bobsled race later Saturday, marking the fifth time in six races (all in Europe) that the former world champion has missed the podium after winning the first three races of the season in North America.
Switzerland’s Beat Hefti won the race in 1:53.76 - a whopping 1.20 seconds ahead of Holcomb, who failed to defend both his two-man and four-man world championships earlier this season. He’s expected to race in the four-man competition in Russia on Sunday.
“Today was tough,” Holcomb said. “I drove well, but we weren’t fast. While we didn’t win, we did learn what not to do, which is a victory in itself.”