America’s best slide into UOP
The fourth time was a charm for American skeleton athletes Katie Uhlaender and Eric Bernotas as they both slid into their fourth individual national titles at the U.S. Skeleton National Championships on Thursday afternoon at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP).
Defending their crowns was no easy task as snowy conditions made sliding down the track difficult. Many sliders complained of visibility and trouble maneuvering in the track grooves.
"It was one of those things," Bernotas said, who pushed through the snow and earned a combined finish time of 1 minute and 42.80 seconds. "The [race] jury did the best they could to make it as fair as possible."
World Cup slider Chris Hedquist of Salt Lake joked that he was sixth in the world, but 10th in the country after snow forced him to come off of his sled partially in the first run and dropped him to the bottom of the results. He recovered to finish in sixth place. Others made the best of the elements and still managed to turn in strong performances. Utahn Noelle Pikus-Pace turned in two fast runs, using her height and weight to slide through the snow more easily than the smaller sliders like Uhlaender. Uhlaemder and pikus Pace were tied after the first run with a time of 54.02. On the second run, Uhlaender was able to edge Pikus Pace out with a finish of 52.43, slightly faster than Pikus-Pace’s 52.78 time. Pikus-Pace said that Uhlaender’s faster push gave her the slight edge over Pikus-Pace who finished in second place.
"It’s aerodynamics versus gravity," said Pikus-Pace.
Rebecca Sorenson finished in third.
The title is yet another feather Uhlaender’s cap. She continues to sweep the skeleton circuit, adding the national crown to her three World Cup victories. She says she has taken a laid-back, fun-loving approach to her sport and, thus far, it has given her very favorable results.
"This season, it kind of goes along with how I changed my mental state," Uhlaender said. "This year, I try to smile and go down."
The same approach was used by the rest of her World Cup teammates who approached the national championships as a practice race and a chance to reunite with teammates on the Europa and America’s Cup tours.
"For me personally, it’s to get back in the mode of competing," Pikus-Pace said.
The national title competition is most valuable to Americans who need International Federation of Bobsleigh and Toboggan (FIBT) points in order to qualify for next year’s team trials. World Cup members are exempt and automatically qualify for team trials. Most still competed and used the race as a tune-up for next week’s World Cup stop in Nagano, Japan. The sliders last race was in Lake Placid, N.Y. three weeks ago before the holidays.
"It’s fun to see everyone and some practice in before Nagano," Uhlaender agreed.
On the men’s side, Salt Laker Zach Lund took second place and Matt Antoine, this year’s America’s Cup champion, took third.
The World Cup sliders are now halfway through the season. After next week’s Japan stop, they head to Igls, Austria and then the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Three more European stops after that will round out the season.
Uhlaender says that she hopes to earn enough points that she can miss some of the tour stops and still maintain her position as World Cup leader. As a native of Breckenridge, Colo., she has her eye on recreational skiing as well as skeleton this year.
"It’s just fun to race and go for the wins," Uhlaender said. "That’s what I’ve always done, but this year its working."
The pressure-free attitude is common among the sliders. With four more seasons before the next Olympics in 2010, much of the team is either taking it easy or even taking the whole season off.
"It’s kind of a year off for everybody," Pikus-Pace said. "It’s just a really relaxed year."
The World Cup team will head to Japan in the next day or two, but the rest of the American contingent will continue sliding on Saturday to garner more points.
Competition continues on Saturday, Jan 6 at the UOP. Log onto http://www.usbsf.com for more details.
Uhlaender, Katie (USA), 54.02, 52.43, 1:48.45
Pikus – Pace, Noelle (USA), 54.02, 52.78, 1:46.80
Sorensen, Rebecca (USA), 54.88, 53.16, 1:48.04
Yamada, Courtney (USA), 55.19, 53.02, 1:48.21
O Shea, Anne (USA), 55.56, 53.08, 1:48.64
Tomlinson, Keslie (USA), 54.44, 54.31, 1:48.75
Bernotas, Eric (USA), 51.71, 51.09, 1:42.80
Lund, Zach (USA), 52.19, 51.00, 1:43.10
Antoine, Matt (USA), 51.80, 51.78, 1:43.58
Daly, John (USA), 52.78, 51.78, 1:44.56
Donahoo, Adam (USA), 52.84, 51.87, 1:44.71
Hedquist, Chris (USA), 53.47, 51.47, 1:44.94
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Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier in the week, the agency announced.