Friday, February 24, 2012
Katie Uhlaender captures worlds gold
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Katie Uhlaender has some peace of mind at last. All it took was four solid runs on her trusty skeleton sled.
Two years after a disappointing Vancouver Olympics, Uhlaender won at the skeleton world championships Friday on Mount Van Hoevenberg.
"Honestly, this race was for me about breaking the curse," said Uhlaender, who finished 11th at Whistler. "This is my moment. This is the way the Olympics should have been. I finally wasn't bitter anymore."
Uhlaender's triumph gave the United States its second gold medal at worlds since the women's competition debuted in 2000. She also won silver in 2008 at Altenberg, Germany, and bronze the previous year at St. Moritz, Switzerland, where teammate Noelle Pikus-Pace took the gold.
At the finish, Uhlaender popped open her visor and extended her arms forward in celebration after seeing her winning time, then quickly made her way toward the fans and began high-fiving them, jumping up and down in a gleeful celebration.
"All I want to do is win. I wish they were all gold," said Uhlaender, a two-time Olympian and two-time World Cup champion who is not just a star of winter. In a week, she heads to the Olympic weightlifting trials in Columbus, Ohio, looking to compete in London this summer.
Uhlaender, of Breckenridge, Colo., finished the four heats over two days in 3 minutes, 42.33 seconds. She beat Mellisa Hollingsworth of Canada by 0.17 seconds. Hollingsworth gained only 0.01 on Uhlaender over the final two runs.
"I felt like I had a shot on the last run, for sure," Hollingsworth said. "You have a shot every time that you're standing on the block. You have a shot to win, and you also have a shot to have your absolute worst nightmare."
Elizabeth Yarnold of Britain took the bronze, 0.36 behind and just ahead of teammate Shelley Rudman, the World Cup champion. Olympic champion Amy Williams of Britain was fifth and two-time defending world champion Marion Thees of Germany was sixth.
Annie O'Shea of Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., finished 10th and walked away with renewed confidence after posting the fastest start in every heat.
""My last run was so awesome. I couldn't really ask for anything else," said O'Shea, who finished 23rd last year at the worlds. "I wrote on my Facebook page, 'brand new day today,' and it was a brand new day."
A snowstorm began moving into the region just as the competition began in the morning. Uhlaender slid first and continued her consistency with a run of 55.62 seconds, giving her three runs within 0.13 seconds of each other.
Hollingsworth was even better, though, with her first three times within 0.07, and started the final run trailing by just 0.17. Rudman, in third, was 0.41 behind.
Yarnold's blistering third run of 55.40, the fastest of the competition, allowed her to slice 0.22 off Uhlaender's lead and at least give Hollingsworth hope that one slip by the American could decide the winner in what essentially was a race between two sleds.
Hollingsworth knows all about slip-ups, having been second at the Vancouver Olympics after three runs and not making the podium after a poor final run. She has since rebounded, capturing bronze at worlds in Germany last year and now silver.
"It was a disappointing, non-consistent race that I had there (at Whistler)," Hollingsworth said. "We did it in Konigssee last year and to do it here and move up one step on the podium, we're right on track heading for Sochi."
On this day, three of the top-five finishers logged identical times on the final run -- 55.68 -- including the top two as Uhlaender maintained her winning margin.
It wasn't so easy, even on the home track. Bobsled teammate Steven Holcomb, who last Sunday won the first gold medal for the U.S. in the history of two-man competition at worlds, helped her cope with the moment.
"I was freaking out," said Uhlaender, who has overcome a shattered left knee and five operations in the past three years. "It just seemed like my runs were so good I was like, 'I don't know where I can get more time, what else to do.' Holcomb was my rock. I did not do this alone. I always need someone there to simmer me down. He just told me to do what I know how to do on the track. He just gave me confidence."
The fans did, too, clanging cowbells and shouting "Katie, Katie" in anticipation of gold as Uhlaender extended her lead to as much as 0.35 halfway down the final time over the tricky 19-turn layout. Rudman had nearly toppled off her sled near the bottom moments before, dropping her from medal contention, but Uhlaender slid smoothly through.
"This is Katie's home track," Hollingsworth said. "She's a strong starter. She's training for her Olympic trials for the weightlifting competition, so she's in great shape and knows this track inside and out.
"We'd already had a mini-race at the team event last Sunday, and she was the top skeleton women's slider. I definitely knew she would be strong."