WINTERBERG, Germany - When Noelle Pikus-Pace decided to make a comeback she thought she would ease back into the sport and wasn't sure what to expect going into the season. That all changed Thursday when she raced to a bronze medal finish in Winterberg's women's skeleton race to earn her first World Cup podium finish in three years.
"I'm thrilled to be back in the medals," Pikus-Pace said. "After team trials I knew where I was situated, and I started to set my sights high. I feel better than ever, and it's so great to be sharing this experience with my family this time around."
Pikus-Pace won her first ever World Cup race in 2004 on the Winterberg track to kick-start a career of medal performances and victories. Eight years later things are a little different with her husband and two children along for the ride.
"It's not just me standing up there anymore," Pikus-Pace said. "As soon as I cross the finish line I'm looking for my family. It makes it that much more fulfilling to have them here with me."
Pikus-Pace's chances of medaling were doubtful after her sled came out of the start groove and bumped the wall before corner one.
"The entire run I just thought 'Be as aerodynamic as possible,' doubting I was even going to get a second run," Pikus-Pace said. "When I was within medal position at the finish, I thought, 'Wow, I still have a shot.' I couldn't believe it."
Despite the blunder at the start, Pikus-Pace was tied for fourth position with British athlete Elizabeth Yarnold, and just 0.04 seconds from third.
Pikus-Pace had a cleaner start in the second run and sped to the finish with a combined time of 1:57.40. She waited and watched as her time held up to Yarnold and Canadian Cassie Hawrysh to move her into bronze medal position.
"I still can't believe it," Pikus-Pace said. "I just wish I could go back and do that start in the first run again, but it leaves me wanting more for the next race."
There have been four different winners in the four races so far this season. Today British athlete Shelley Rudman ran away with the lead after smashing the track record by over half a second with a run of 58.06 seconds. Rudman extended her lead in the second heat to claim gold by 0.99 seconds with a two-run total of 1:56.30. Anja Huber earned silver for the host nation with a combined time of 1:57.29.
U.S. athlete Katie Uhlaender burst off the starting block with power, but her sled popped out of the groove just a few steps in on the flat before the crest. She was able to load onto the sled, but it was thrown sideways into a skid before entering corner one. Uhlaender's push time suffered, and the reigning World Champion was unable to make up time down the course despite a clean run. She crossed the finish line in 59.73 seconds for 21st place, just missing the cutoff for the final heat.
Uhlaender said she was "ready to win" and felt "gutted" when she popped the groove.
"In nine years I have never lost the chance for a second run," Uhlaender said. "I really thought Noelle and I were going to battle it out for the win."
Uhlaender is preparing to come out the blocks strong in today's team event. Racing continued today with the men's skeleton race at 8 a.m.