KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Nearly eight years after she first thought she’d compete for an Olympic medal, Noelle Pikus-Pace finally has one within reach.
After two of her four skeleton runs, the Orem native and mother of two sits in second place — .44 of a second behind Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold. Her teammate Katie Uhlaender is in fourth place, just .14 of a second from the podium.
“That would be a dream come true if Katie and I could both be up on that podium together, to have two U.S. flags flying and waving in the wind,” Pikus-Pace said. “That would be absolutely incredible.”
Pikus-Pace skipped four of her six practice runs this week as she re-aggravated an old back injury.
"I'm just trying to take it a day at a time," Pikus-Pace said. "It's pretty hard when I had only a few runs here, but I felt well coming into the race today, although my first run was pretty sloppy to say the least. I feel happy with how I was able to come back in the second run and put it down. I know what I need to change tomorrow, and I'll be ready to give my best."
She knows, maybe more than anyone, that .44 of a second may not sound like much but is significant on a skeleton track.
“It’s a pretty big margin, to be honest,” Pikus-Pace said. “Anything is possible, but it’s a pretty big margin. Lizzy laid down two solid runs and it shows. She’s done very well this season and she’s going to come out tomorrow and be ready to lay it down.”
Pikus-Pace will do the same, as she’s fought too hard to be in medal contention to do anything but continue competing. In 2006 she missed the Olympics after suffering a compound fracture when a runaway bobsled hit her just before trials.
She competed in 2010, but missed a bronze by one-tenth of a second. It was a miscarriage in the spring of 2012 that prompted her to try one more time for the elusive medal.
"After finishing fourth in Vancouver I've always said, obviously everyone is going after that gold medal,” Pikus-Pace said, “but after missing that bronze by one-tenth of a second, I'm pretty sure I'll be stoked just to be on that podium tomorrow.”
The battle was always expected to come down to Pikus-Pace and Yarnold. Of the eight World Cups, the women have split the gold medals four apiece.
Uhlaender had mixed feelings about her first two runs — and current fourth place standing.
"I was really happy with my first run even though I made some mistakes at the top that cost me quite a bit of speed,” Uhlaender said, “but the second run I had a huge mistake at the bottom that cost me from pulling ahead."
The skeleton race resumes Friday at 4:30 p.m. with finals runs at 7:40 p.m.
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