LAKE PLACID - As the men's World Championship skeleton race moved from Friday's opening run to the final heat over the course of two days, the biggest question may not have been who will win, but by how much.
Latvia's Martin Dukurs answered that resoundingly, sliding to victory by more than two seconds Saturday in a successful defense of his World Championship title at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Dukurs has essentially been unbeatable all season by finishing first in 13 of the 14 races in which he competed. The only time he didn't finish on top of the podium came earlier this year in a World Cup event in Konigsee, Germany when he fell off his sled.
Latvia’s Martins Dukurs pushes his sled to start the third run of the men’s World Championship skeleton race Saturday on Mount Van Hoevenberg’s mile-long track.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
But that wasn't the case for Dukurs in Lake Placid. Starting with Friday's first run, the 27-year-old who has been nicknamed "Superman" grabbed more than a half-second lead, and extended his edge by that much on each of the next three runs to win convincingly. He finished with a four-run total of 3 minutes, 37.09 seconds, with Germany's Frank Rommel taking the silver, 2.08 seconds back.
Despite his impressive results on the skeleton track, Dukurs said it takes a lot of work to get to the top.
"At first, it's team work, and then you concentrate on the start, and then technique on the track," he said. "I've been in this sport 14 years, and I never take anything for granted. There was pressure for me. They're showing you as Superman, and Superman can be second.
"There's nothing I'd rather be doing," Dukurs added. "I'm doing this for fun. I love this sport."
While there appeared to be no suspense in who the winner would be, there was quite a battle going on for the third spot on the podium, which ultimately went to Ben Sanford of New Zealand. He stood in fifth place after Friday's first two runs, and vaulted into third after his first trip on the wind- and snow-whipped track Saturday evening. His third run of 54.76 seconds was the next-fastest of the heat behind Dukurs. Sanford grabbed the bronze with a final run time of 55.23 and a 3:39.50 total.
Without a track in his home country, Sanford has become familiar with the run at Mount Van Hoevenberg, despite missing the 2009 World Championships and last season's World Cup race in Lake Placid.
"There is no track in New Zealand, there is no track in the southern hemisphere, so I've gone to the northern hemisphere, and Lake Placid has pretty much been my home for the past four or five seasons," said Sanford, who finds the Spruce Lodge in Lake Placid a great place to stay when he trains here. "I've spent a lot of time on this track. I know if I slide well, I can be in the top five, but I wasn't sure I could make it into the top three."
In racing skeleton, Sanford followed in the footsteps of his uncle Bruce, who won the gold medal at the 1992 skeleton World Championships in Calgary, Canada.
"It's 20 years to the month since he won in Calgary, and he was instrumental in getting me into this sport and develop as an athlete," Sanford said. "It's been six months on the road. For me it's such a long season and this was a great way to finish up the season."
Wisconsin's Matt Antoine was in position to keep the Americans hopes of medaling in each of the World Championship races alive when he stood in third place after Friday's opening two runs. Saturday, however, didn't turn out to be his day.
Antonie, who holds the track record in Lake Placid, slipped into fourth place after a third-run time of 55 seconds flat, and that left him .05 out of third behind the surging Sanford. Antoine then dropped one more position on the last run when he turned in the 11th-best time of the heat. He finished tied for fifth with Latvia's Tomass Dukurs, both posting 3:39.75 totals.
Russia's Sergey Chudinov moved up to fourth place with a 3:39.65 four-heat combined time.
"It's not where I wanted to finish," Antoine said. "I know I was capable of a lot better than this, so it's a disappointment. There's not a whole lot of positive to take out of today. I had a problem with consistency this year and it showed on the final run. Some people might be happy to finish fifth, but I'm not."
John Daly gave the U.S. two top-10 finishes in the race, placing eighth with a 3:40.52 total.