Americans win three skeleton medals at UOP
Even before the first heat of Friday morning’s North American Cup skeleton race at the Utah Olympic Park at 10 a.m., the term "heat" seemed very appropriate.
Temperatures were in the 50s by the time the racers began sliding, and the high would hover around 60 before all was said and done. Under conditions like that, sometimes tracks get soggy and slow, but based on the times posted by the racers on Friday, the UOP track crew managed to maintain fair conditions throughout the day.
Leslie Stratton, a first-year American slider, said she appreciated the hard work that went into keeping the ice as fast as possible on Friday.
"The track workers are excellent and they definitely put in more work on the days that we have races," she said. "Usually with this temperature and weather, it slows down a little bit. Between the first and second runs, it did slow down a little bit, but the margin of it was so small compared to what it would have been if they didn’t put in all that work."
The consistent track conditions led to a competitive day of racing, as Kimberley Bos of the Netherlands edged Jaclyn Laberge of Canada to take home the gold medal. Bos’s two-run time of 1 minute, 42.39 seconds was good enough to defeat Laberge by .08 seconds. Veronica Day of the United States finished third in 1:43.18.
Stratton, a rookie on the U.S. team, finished eighth. She said she was motivated by that result.
"I’m technically a first-year slider, so I’m just happy to be here and compete," she said. "My first run [of 51.94 seconds] was a [personal record] by a lot, so I was pretty excited to be in the 51s for the first time. Overall, my goal was to make the top 10 and I did that, so I was really happy."
Though Stratton is a first-year skeleton athlete, she’s familiar with the Utah Olympic Park track through her experience in another sliding sport. In fact, Stratton made history in Park City last year before switching to skeleton.
"I actually was a bobsled brakeman last year," she said. "I competed on the North American Cup last year and was actually on the sled that was the first four-woman team in history (driven by Brittany Reinbolt). I got on a [skeleton] sled for the first time when we were out here for bobsled and I just fell in love with it. I knew I was going to switch, but I wanted to finish out the season first."
Because she fell in love with the sport in Park City, Stratton, a New Hampshire native, said the Utah Olympic Park track is her favorite. Also, she added, it fits her driving style more than Team USA’s other home track in Lake Placid, New York.
"I did my first sliding school out here, so this track has a special place in my heart," she said. "I love it. It suits my driving style in a way. Lake Placid is considered one of the most technically challenging tracks in the world. There’s a lot less [gravitational] pressure there, but the turns are a lot tighter and you steer a lot more. Here, because it’s a lot higher pressure and it’s a shorter track, you don’t steer as much. It’s a more finesse track."
Stratton finished ninth in Saturday’s NorAm race, with Day again finishing third behind Bos and Laberge. In Friday’s men’s race, Ander Mirambell of Spain finished first, with Alex Ivanov pacing Team USA in fifth. In Saturday’s men’s race, John Farrow of Austria won and Andrew Blaser of the U.S. finished second, only .07 seconds behind.
Heading into the final event of this NorAm season, Stratton said she’s eying bigger and better things in 2016-17. But, she added, it’s all about making small improvements every day.
"If I progress, that means I’ve met my goal," she said. "In the end, it’s me against me and not me against other people. Obviously, that matters for rankings and stuff, but if I slide well and end up making a better tour, that would be awesome. If I keep getting better, it’ll eventually pay off."
The year’s final North American Cup skeleton races are scheduled to take place in Lake Placid, New York, March 17 and 18.
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Dave Hanscom announced last month he was retiring as volunteer race director of the Wasatch Citizens Series after 30 years in the position.