Antoine caps U.S. medal sweep

LAKE PLACID – Before Friday, Matt Antoine of the United States had won three bronze medals during his five years of racing on the World Cup skeleton circuit.

On Friday in Lake Placid, the 28-year-old from Prairie du Chien, Wis. capped off a U.S. sweep of three gold medals on the opening day of FIBT World Cup action at Mount Hoevenberg. Competing in the final race of the day, Antoine followed the lead of American teammates Steve Holcomb and Noelle Pikus-Pace, who continued their hot streaks with victories in two-man bobsled and women’s skeleton.

Antoine turned in the fastest time in both heats to claim his first World Cup gold medal with a finish time of 1 minute, 47.58 seconds. Russia’s Alexander Tretakov slid to the silver medal and Tomass Dukurs of Latvia took the bronze.

“All three of my medals have been bronze, and one of my goals was a win going into Sochi,” Antoine said. “I don’t typically yell a lot coming up that outrun, but I did that one. It was a really great moment.”

Antoine grabbed the lead by putting down a run of 53.89 seconds on his first trip down the mile-long track. After waiting for the women to complete their second heat on a frigid afternoon, he slashed two-tenths of a second off that time on the men’s second run to extend his margin of victory. In terms of skeleton racing, Antoine wound up winning by a huge edge of .63 seconds.

“It was a little agonizing. I did a lot of walking around,” Antoine said describing the wait between the first and second runs. “I said to myself I was in the lead, but it’s not a comfortable lead.”

U.S. teammate John Daly stood in second after the first run, and was just .04 off the lead set by Antoine. But Daly, who has a handful of World Cup career-best fourth-place results, had a rough second run and again had to settle for finishing one position out of the medals. He turned in runs of 53.93 and 54.44 for a 1:48.37 total.

“A little tap in curve 10 cost me,” Daly said. “It was disappointing giving up a big lead like that. I hoped to get a medal here on my home track. Maybe my first medal will be the Olympic Games.”

Kyle Tress was the third American competing in the men’s race, and had a strong showing with a seventh-place finish. He stood sixth after a first-run time of 54.21 and followed with a 54.36 on his second run for a 1:48.57 total.

After apparently winning the World Cup season-opening race before being disqualified two weeks ago in Calgary, Pikus-Pace has been unstoppable. In her next race, which was a Friday ago in Park City, she set a new track record – not once but twice – on the way to a victory. She then notched her second win in a row Friday in Lake Placid, and triumphed by nearly half a second over runner-up Anja Huber of Germany.

Pikus-Pace shook off what she described as “two really, really bad training days” earlier in the week by turning in the fastest runs in each of the competition’s two heats. Her times were nearly identical – 51.51 and 51.52 – and added up to a winning 1:51.37 total.

“It’s like a light switch with me. I can turn it on into race mode,” she said. “Today, I turned on the switch and fired it up. Any time you can lay it down in your home country, it’s a great feeling.”

With her two wins, Pikus-Pace has moved up from the very bottom of the women’s skeleton World Cup standings into sixth place in what could be her final season of competing. Great Britain’s Elizabeth Yarnold, who finished third Friday, tops the rankings and Huber is second.

Huber took the silver with a 1:51.83 total and Yarnold finished third in 1:51.88. Katharine Eustace of New Zealand placed fourth and Germany’s Marion Thees, who was second after the first run, finished fifth.

Battling her way back from a concussion earlier in the season, U.S. veteran slider Katie Uhlaender finished 14th in 1:52.79.

After the races, Pikus-Pace and Antoine said they are thrilled with the direction the U.S. skeleton and bobsled athletes are taking with the Sochi Winter Games less than two months away.

“It looks good going into Sochi. We’re firing on all cylinders,” Pikus-Pace said.

“I would say it’s hard work paying off for both our bobsled and skeleton teams,” Antoine added. “We’re not here by luck.”

World Cup racing in Lake Placid continues through Sunday. Today’s schedule includes another men’s two-man bobsled race and women’s bobsledding. Action wraps up Sunday with a second women’s skeleton race and four-man bobsledding.