Pikus-Pace and Antoine repeat as selection winners

LAKE PLACID – Noelle Pikus-Pace and Matt Antoine were repeat winners in Wednesday’s skeleton selection races at the Olympic Sports Complex on Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Pikus-Pace finished a distant 0.79 seconds ahead of the women’s field to claim her second-consecutive win. Antoine led the men by 0.29 seconds for his second victory of the season.

“The Olympic Regional Development Authority had a lot of challenges to overcome in these last three weeks, yet they were able to provide us with terrific track conditions for our races,” said U.S. skeleton head coach Tuffy Latour. “We are very grateful for their hard work to get us on ice this early in the season. We’ve got a talented group of athletes battling for a spot on the national team, so it’ll be interesting to see how races finish up in Park City, Utah next week.”

Athletes are racing for one of 11 spots on the national team that consists of six men and five women. Pikus-Pace, Katie Uhlaender and John Daly were granted a bye onto the team based on last season’s results, leaving eight positions up for grabs. Racing will continue with the final two competitions on the 2002 Olympic track in Park City Oct. 28-29 before the roster is named.

Pikus-Pace dominated the field by clocking the fastest runs of the women’s race – 56.43 and 57.16 seconds – for a total time of 1:53.59 to extend her lead in trials points.

“Anytime I have the opportunity to compete, I’m going to utilize it,” Pikus-Pace said. “I am constantly learning new things about this sport and about myself. Racing against the best athletes in the U.S. only pushes me to be my best, and that’s what I’m striving for.”

Pikus-Pace isn’t alone in her quest for gold. Her husband Janson and two kids, Lacee, 5, and Traycen, 2, are traveling with Pikus-Pace as she makes a bid for her second Olympic team.

“My husband and kids are my foundation,” Pikus-Pace said. “They make it possible for me to reach higher levels and be more competitive than I have ever been. Having them with me allows me to lose sight of distractions that many athletes get caught up with and focus on the things that matter most.”

Annie O’Shea posted a two-run total of 1:54.38 after crossing the finish in 56.87 and 57.51 seconds to comfortably take second place in the selection race series.

Savannah Graybill is in a favorable position to make the team after finishing third again with a total time of 1:55.05. Rachelle Rasmussen jumped up a position from yesterday to finish fourth (1:55.61).

Antoine once again posted the fastest finish times of the men’s competition, 54.83 and 55.18 seconds, to lead the men’s race (1:50.01). Daly closed the gap today and trailed his teammate by just 0.29 seconds after sliding runs of 55.01 and 55.29 seconds (1:50.30).

“Competitors like John don’t allow any victory to be easy,” Antoine said. “It keeps me motivated to know that I can’t let up or make any mistakes. Kyle, John and I have pushed each other to be better over the past few years.”

Mike Dellemann bettered his chances of making the team after securing third place today with a total time of 1:50.96. Greg West rebounded from a ninth place finish yesterday with a fourth place result today (1:51.67). Tom Santagato finished fifth (1:51.72), followed by Kyle Tress and Kevin McGlade tied for sixth (1:51.84).

Athletes travel to Park City to begin official training later this week. Skeleton racing will resume on Monday.

“It feels good to get the first races out of the way, because there are always nerves when you’re starting back up,” Antoine said. “Next week is a new challenge, a new track, and I’ll be back at zero. I’m looking at the season as a whole, and I still have a lot of work ahead of me, so I can’t celebrate just yet.”