A golden day on the track
There’s no place like home.
Just ask the U.S. Skeleton Team who found gold in both the men’s and women’s events at the International Bobsleigh and Toboggan Federation (FIBT) Skeleton World Cup at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) Thursday afternoon.
Less than one week after the U.S. team was shut of the medal count in World Cup Luge competition, the wearers of the stars and stripes came storming back with gold medals in the women’s and men’s events.
U.S. slider Katie Uhlaender started the competition on a winning note cruising into first place with a finish time of 1 minute and 40.9 seconds, almost four-tenths of a second ahead of Switzerland’s Maya Pedersen with a time of 1:41.29. The win gives the Colorado native back-to-back wins in the first two World Cup competitions of the season, after winning in Calgary last week. Canada’s Michelle Kelly came in third with a 1:41.6 finish.
But the day truly belonged to Salt Lake’s Zach Lund. The 26-year-old returned to competition on his home track for the first time since the 2002 Olympics and quickly made it his own by claiming his first ever World Cup gold.
"I’ve been waiting my whole career for this victory," said an emotional Lund. "After this whole year, this means more than I can say."
The win is a vindication for Lund, who was sent home from the 2006 Olympics after he tested positive for the steroid-masking substance finasteride found in his hair restoration medication.
In his first run, Lund established himself with a second-place finish. On the second run, Lund laid down a near perfect run finishing with a time of 1:48.15 with just one slider to go.
Lund’s victory seemed in jeopardy for about 4.49 seconds as Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov set a track record on his push time, but mistakes further down the course preserved American gold.
"I knew he was going to have a good start, but I knew I had good mental toughness," Lund said. "Mental toughness is more important than the start."
Fellow Utahn Chris Hedquist finished a disappointing 10th place. After a strong first run, Hedquist took an aggressive line down the track the second time and took a solid hit on one of bottom curves.
"I was in one-tenth of a podium on my home track," Hedquist said. "I thought I’d let it rip."
Hedquist had wanted to post a higher finish at home but was still happy with the results in his first full season on the American World Cup team.
As for Uhlaender, it seems that her success is due in large part to her laid-back attitude. She says that with less pressure in a non-Olympic year, she able to slide without worrying about her results or the other competitors.
"I think [it’s] just a clear head and a good mentality," Uhlaender said. "I wasn’t focusing on results."
Uhlaender also had a summer’s worth of training on the Cook Islands with her boyfriend, which prepared her both mentally and physically for the demanding World Cup schedule.
Utah slider Noelle Pikus-Pace also had a good day on her home track finishing in sixth place with a time of 1:41.93.
"It’s nice to be in my home town where my family is," Pikus-Pace said.
Pikus-Pace, who is just a year removed from a freak bobsled accident that broke her leg, said that the short UOP track was not the best suited for her type of sliding. Standing at five feet and 10 inches, she says she prefers a longer, more technical track that gives her ample time for a strong push. Pikus-Pace will get a chance to test her skill at a longer track next week, when the World Cup Tour wraps up its North American swing in Lake Placid, N.Y.
World Cup bobsled competition continues at the UOP on Saturday, Dec. 9 with the for-man bobsled competition from 4-7 p.m.
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