Bobsled, Skeleton World Cup preview continued
3. Uhlaender, Pikus-Pace return to the ice.
Katie Uhlaender and Noelle Pikus-Pace are friendlier now. The top two U.S. skeleton sliders are talking more about working together than in the past, where their competitive relationship often was as icy as the tracks they shared. They could also swap unique stories from their time apart over the last year.
Uhlaender's was more publicized. In March, she attempted to qualify for the London Olympics in weightlifting 10 days after winning a world championship in skeleton.
"I thought it would be a lot like stepping on a skeleton stage, but I think I'm a lot more comfortable in a helmet," said Uhlaender, who failed to complete a snatch lift in the third weightlifting meet of her life. "Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the stands. I choked a little bit."
Uhlaender, who's had eight surgeries at age 27, still lifts six days a week -- despite this 194-pound mistake. She's sticking with weightlifting and set a goal of making the world championship team in both sports in 2013. It will be a more manageable double this year. Weightlifting nationals are in July, five months after skeleton worlds, and the weightlifting world championships in Warsaw, Poland, aren't until October. Plus, the U.S. usually gets more entrants into worlds than it does the Olympics, where it qualified just two for London.
"I know I'm the fastest woman in the world on my stomach," Uhlaender said. "To be the strongest woman in the world would make it even that much more sweet."
Pikus-Pace, the 2007 world champion, came out of retirement and won all four national team selection races culminating last week in Park City, Utah. Pikus-Pace hasn't competed since finishing fourth at the 2010 Olympics and won't join the World Cup circuit until around Christmas.
"I retired without a doubt in my mind that I was done," Pikus-Pace said. "I sold most of my equipment."
She had her second child, Traycen, in March 2011, and that fall, her husband, Janson, challenged her to take one last skeleton run on the Utah Olympic Park track.
"Go up once, and if you don't want to do it, then great," he said. "No regrets."
"Once I got down to the bottom, I was like, 'Oh, great,'" she said. "[My husband] just saw me, and he saw the big smile on my face. ... I still absolutely loved the sport."
But plans changed in the spring. Pikus-Pace was pregnant with a third child, a girl. She was at 18 weeks and already had a list of baby names saved in her phone the day before Easter. She had just gotten back from a barbecue restaurant, put the kids to bed and put on a movie when she stood up to go to the kitchen, when Pikus-Pace started bleeding heavily.
"Rushed to the ER," she said. "There are two or three scary moments of my life, and that's definitely one of them. Getting hit by the bobsled [in 2005, breaking her right leg] was another."
Pikus-Pace is open when talking about the miscarriage and how she responded to it.
"We started thinking about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do," shed said, deciding after much thought to recommit to skeleton in June. "This, for me, coming back to the sled happens for a reason."
4. Remember Jon Montgomery?
The scruffy Canadian authored one of the iconic moments of the 2010 Olympics after his come-from-behind skeleton gold win. Montgomery, the car salesman/auctioneer, was handed (and swilled from) a pitcher of beer on his victory march through the Whistler ski village to receive his medal. (He gained Saturday Night Live-like fame back home, too, and still gets requests to autograph photos of it).
"Not a lot of people know my name or what sport," Montgomery said in a phone interview, "but a lot of people remember the guy drinking a pitcher of beer."
Montgomery's results soon turned bitter. He was out of the top five in seven of eight World Cup stops in 2010-11 (winning the opener in Whistler, though) and 11th at the 2011 world championships. He took last season off, to take "opportunities to develop equipment in my own vision," he said, engineering a new sled and building a training facility in his garage.
"It was a fairly easy decision to make because there was nothing to be gained by competing last year," Montgomery, 33, said. "We don't make any money. There's no prize money to be had. There aren't any sacrifices." (He said he earned less than $10,000 in his best year on tour, when he was second overall and second at worlds).
"I've got 10 seasons of experience competing to be able to draw from, and last season, nobody's going to know who won the world championship, who won a single race ... but people do know who won the Olympics."
His time off paid off. Montgomery said he clocked personal-bests in two selection runs at the Whistler Olympic track -- yet he was fifth at Calgary nationals and still made to the suddenly competitive three-man Canadian team.
"Anybody that knows anything about the sport knows that I'm going to be an underdog, for sure," Montgomery said. "Martins Dukurs is, hands down, the best athlete in the world."
Dukurs is the Latvian whom Montgomery upset for Olympic gold. Dukurs won 12 of the last 14 World Cup races since the Olympics as well as the 2011 and 2012 world championships by eternal two-second gaps.
"I'm going to do my damndest to make sure that I narrow the gap," Montgomery said. "I will be nipping at their heels come Sochi 2014."
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