LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Matt Antoine emailed his U.S. skeleton coaches a couple weeks ago, telling them he would not concede anything to anyone in this Olympic season.
He went out Friday and proved just that.
And a superb start to the Olympic season for American sliders just keeps getting better.
Antoine got his first World Cup victory and made it look relatively easy, finishing two runs at Mount Van Hoevenberg in 1 minute, 47.58 seconds — 0.63 seconds ahead of Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov, a fairly wide winning margin. It was a double-gold day for the U.S. skeleton team, as Noelle Pikus-Pace finally got her first win on the Lake Placid track by beating Germany’s Anja Huber by 0.46 seconds.
“It’s hard work paying off, for both bobsled and skeleton,” Antoine said. “I don’t think anyone’s necessarily surprised, at least within our team, to see us doing this well.”
John Fairbairn was the top Canadian in sixth place, a career-best result for the Calgarian.
Americans have won 10 of the 14 gold medals awarded this season on the World Cup bobsled and skeleton circuits. It would be 11 golds if Pikus-Pace hadn’t been disqualified after finishing first in the season-opening race in Calgary, Alberta.
There was no disqualifying, or catching, her on Friday. Pikus-Pace had the fastest time in both heats of the women’s race, meaning she still hasn’t been beaten on the ice this season. And even with zero points from the opening race — she could have had 225 had her win held up, as she still insists it should have — the veteran is up to sixth in the World Cup overall standings.
“Anytime you can lay it down in your home country is a great feeling,” Pikus-Pace said.
Mellisa Hollingsworth of Eckville, Alta., was the top Canadian in eighth place.
It’s probably fair to say that no one within the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation was feeling better Friday than Antoine.
After the World Cup opener, he wrote the U.S. coaching staff and told them he thought everyone — including Martins Dukurs of Latvia, the overwhelming favourite for Olympic gold entering the season — was beatable.
Turns out, Antoine was right.
Not only did he beat Dukurs on Friday, but so did six other sliders, including Americans John Daly (who placed fourth) and Kyle Tress (who placed seventh, giving his hopes of racing at the Sochi Games a serious boost).
Dukurs finished eighth, 1.06 seconds back of Antoine. Dukurs had won 20 of the last 22 races on the World Cup circuit after prevailing in the season opener, then failed to win in either Park City last weekend or Lake Placid on Friday.
“We’re studying Martins constantly. He’s the best in the world. We’re always trying to catch up to him,” Tress said. “And so to achieve that now, with basically three more Olympic qualifying races going into Sochi, it’s so much confidence going forward. We’re moving in the right direction. We’re going to go into Christmas break on a high.”
Tomass Dukurs, Martins’ brother, took third for Latvia in the men’s race.
Antoine’s victory was the first World Cup win for a North American men’s skeleton racer since Canada’s Jon Montgomery won in Whistler in 2010.
“People maybe thought I was a little over my head when I said that initially, but I truly believed it,” Antoine said. “We’re putting in the work and it’s paying off now. We’re not here by luck. We’re working hard.”
Pikus-Pace’s winning time was 1:51.37. Huber was second and Britain’s Lizzie Yarnold was third, 0.51 seconds behind Pikus-Pace. Katie Uhlaender was 14th for the U.S., as she continues working her way back after a concussion derailed most of her early season training and preparation.
When Pikus-Pace crossed the finish line and saw the number “1” on the digital display, signifying her place, she pumped her fists as her sled slowed, slapped fives with some onlookers, then jumped onto the finish deck and wrapped an American flag around her shoulders.
“I had two really, really bad training days here,” Pikus-Pace said. “So I never put it together. I didn’t feel good with it so I sat there and literally watched video for hours and just mentally went through what I wanted to do and what I wanted to focus on with my runs.”
Racing in Lake Placid continues Saturday with 2-man and women’s bobsled races. Another women’s skeleton race is Sunday, followed by the 4-man bobsled competition.