LAKE PLACID - Top United States men's slider Matt Antoine has enjoyed success at Mount Van Hoevenberg in the past - including winning the past two U.S. national skeleton championships- but he has lower expectations this time around.
When the World Cup skeleton races kick off today, Antoine hopes to just to finish in the top 10.
Antoine, who is entering his fourth World Cup season, had knee surgery in July and is easing back into competition with the goal of getting back to full strength for the second half of the season.
Matt Antoine makes his way toward the finish line during Wednesday’s training session at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake?Placid. FIBT World Cup skeleton begins today, followed by bobsled on Friday and Saturday.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
"I'm still battling back from that. I really haven't been able to properly train until the last month," Antoine said after finishing a training run Wednesday. "I'm kind of being realistic about things. I know I'm going to be behind at the start, so I'm kind of trying to keep the long-term goal in mind, shooting for the World Championships.
"Really, the goal for the first half of the season and this race is just try to put down some top 10 results to put myself in the points mix until I can get back to 100 percent competing."
Antoine said he had reconstructive surgery on his patella tendon, an injury that occurred over time due to the normal wear and tear of the sport.
World Cup Lake Placid Schedule
At Mount Van Hoevenberg
9 a.m. - Women's skeleton Heat #1
10:30 a.m. - Women's skeleton Heat #2
1 p.m.- Men's skeleton Heat #1
2:30 p.m. - Men's skeleton Heat #2
9 a.m. - Women's bobsled Heat #1
10 a.m. - Men's skeleton Heat #3
10:45 a.m. - Women's bobsled Heat #2
1 p.m.- Two-man bobsled Heat #1
2:15 p.m. - Women's skeleton Heat #3
3 p.m. Two-man bobsled Heat #2
9 a.m. - Four-man bobsled Heat #1
10:30 a.m. - Four-man bobsled Heat #2
"It's been happening in the last year, but I competed through it," Antoine said. "But this summer it just got to the point where it wasn't manageable, so I had to have surgery."
The problem for Antoine is that the injury hampers him at the start of the race, when he's trying to gain momentum heading down the ice during the push start.
"If you don't have a competitive push time, you're putting yourself at a huge disadvantage because you're just building upon that advantage you create at the beginning," he said. "I don't think my push times are going to be terrible by any means, but I certainly have to start at a disadvantage to everyone else right now and work my way back from that."
For Antoine, the timing of this World Cup race is a bit unfortunate because he has had some success on this track. If he was at full strength, he'd be able to better take advantage of the home track sliding advantage.
In addition to the two recent national championships, he took fifth in the World Championships early this year here. During that race, Antoine was in third place until the final heat, when a pair of competitors slipped past him. The winter before that he took fourth in the World Cup held at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Part of Antoine's success at Mount Van Hoevenberg may be because he has a long history at the track, having competed on it for a decade now.
"This is where I started," said Antoine, who is from Prairie du Chien, Wisc. "(Skeleton) was basically something I saw at the 2002 (Salt Lake City Olympic) Games. It looked interesting (so) I got in contact with the U.S. federation, did some tryouts and eventually got myself into the development program, and just kind of worked my way through."
In a way, Antoine is starting over again. Of course, this time, he's started at a much higher level and with the knowledge that he has a strong shot at the ultimate goal - the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He's already been to the Games once, when he competed in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"That's the plan. Like I said, this year I'm trying to keep the big picture in mind and get ready for World Championships (in February), but obviously I wanted to make sure I'm healthy, not only for the second half of this season, but also leading into next year because that's when it counts the most," he said.