Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • Noelle Pikus-Pace is in position to finally win an Olympic medal after a long, star-crossed career.
Gold, however, might already be out of reach.
The Orem native and Eagle mountain resident slid into second place after the first two runs of the skeleton competition at the Sochi Olympics on Thursday, with the final two runs coming Friday. But Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold leads by a massive 0.44 seconds, and Pikus-Pace said she aggravated a back injury during training last week.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t know how today would go,” Pikus-Pace said. “You definitely want to come into the Olympic Games at your prime. And earlier this week, I did not feel that this was going to go well for me.”
Pikus-Pace said she hurt her back while doing sit-ups shortly after giving birth to her son Traycen two years ago. She has three herniated discs that flared up during an unofficial training run last week.
“I got down to the bottom, and I just knew something was wrong,” she said.
“When it goes out, it goes out and there’s not much I can do about it except rest and recovery. So I knew that taking some time off would be best for me, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Pikus-Pace skipped most of her training runs and arrived at the track at the Sanki Sliding Center hoping she could recapture the magic that helped her win the World Cup event there last year and half of the eight World Cup races this season.
But Yarnold, the woman who won the other half of the World Cup races as well as the overall title, dominated the field with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 56.89 seconds and will be hard, if not impossible, to catch. Pikus-Pace is more likely fighting for a spot on the podium with Russia’s Elena Nikitina and countrywoman Katie Uhlaender, who are both within 0.25 seconds.
“Anything’s possible,” Uhlaender said.
Pikus-Pace is aiming for her first medal after a career that has included missing the 2006 Turin Olympics as the favorite because of injury — she suffered a broken leg in a freak accident in which she was hit by a runaway bobsled — and finishing fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games by 0.1 seconds.
“That’s something that weighs heavily on your mind every day,” she said. “That’s the ultimate goal is to stand on that podium.”
Pikus-Pace retired for 2 1/2 years after Vancouver, but she came back at her husband’s urging for one last shot at the Olympics. She agreed, but only if her family could accompany her on her travels. So after raising thousands of dollars to finance the effort, her husband and two young children have been traveling around Europe for much of the last two years.
All of them were there to watch Pikus-Pace take her shot in Sochi, however handicapped she might have been.
“I just have to do what I need to do and put it together one run at a time,” she said.