Winter Sports: Noelle Pikus-Pace disqualified from World Cup race after British protest
Noelle Pikus-Pace would have won the season-opening World Cup skeleton race in Calgary on Friday, if not for a small piece of tape on the handle of her sled.
The former world champion and 2010 Olympian from Eagle Mountain was disqualified after the race, in which she outraced the field by a sizable margin of 0.16 seconds over two runs.
"My heart is broken," she wrote on her Facebook page.
Just hours later, Park City's Steven Holcomb drove his new BMW two-man sled to victory in his opening race of the season, 0.16 seconds ahead of reigning world silver medalist Beat Hefti of Switzerland over two runs.
In his first run in the new sled, Holcomb set a track record with his time of 54.51 seconds an encouraging sign for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia.
"It's an interesting feeling knowing that no one has been faster than us down this track," Holcomb said. "It's pretty cool to have a track record on an established track, and it's actually my first track record in two-man."
It also was Holcomb's first two-man victory since a three-race win streak to start last season; he reached the podium only once, in third place, over the season's final six races.
But Pikus-Pace was the story of the day.
The 30-year-old Orem native and officials from the U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation said she was disqualified for the tape that was already present on her sled when it passed inspection earlier in the week. Pikus-Pace wrote that she used the tape to help grip the metal handle when pushing the sled many athletes do the same thing, she said and was disqualified only after the British team protested.
Her elimination meant that Great Britain's Elizabeth Yarnold was elevated from second place to first.
"It's a travesty," said Zach Lund, a U.S. assistant coach and former Olympic slider from Salt Lake City. "There's no competitive advantage, and we are really disappointed."
The Americans were preparing an appeal Friday evening, a federation spokeswoman said.
The disqualification also cost Pikus-Pace crucial points toward earning a good start position at the Olympics. She later posted on Facebook a photo of what she said was the offending piece of tape.
Pikus-Pace has been tearing up the World Cup circuit since returning from a 21/2-year retirement, having reached the podium in each of her last five races to finish last season, including victories in two of her last three. She's aiming to cap her career by finally winning an Olympic medal in Sochi.
"So so sad and disappointed that thousands of hours of training come down to a protest and decision for three pieces of non performance enhancing tape," she wrote. "I would have obviously removed it, if they had told me in my sled inspection that it was wrong in any way."
Head coach Tuffy Latour said Pikus-Pace was "devastated," and "didn't violate the spirit of the rule" that she was disqualified for breaking. "But I'll tell you what," he added, "this has released the lioness in her. She is going to be on a tear, and I have no doubt she'll back on the medal stand next week" in Park City.
The World Cup tour stops at the Utah Olympic Park next weekend, with the skeleton competition scheduled for Friday.
Michael C. Lewis
Kuusamo, Finland • Kikkan Randall of the United States finished runner-up in a World Cup cross-country race won Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. Eirik Brandsdal of Norway was the men's winner.
Kowalczyk captured the 1.4-kilometer sprint in 3 minutes, 6.14 seconds. Randall was 1.69 seconds behind, with Denise Herrmann of Germany in third place, trailing the winner by 2.9 seconds.
Kuusamo, Finland • Defending ski jump World Cup champion Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria won for the first time this season.
With a second jump of 143 meters on Friday he beat Germany's Marinus Kraus by a half point.
Schlierenzauer had been 15th after managing only 128 meters in the first round, but he had the day's longest jump in the second round to finish with 273.2 points.
Ostersund, Sweden • Ann Kristin Flatland of Norway won the women's 7.5-kilometer sprint race at a biathlon World Cup meet, shooting cleanly to finish 15.9 seconds ahead of runner-up Olga Zaitseva of Russia.