Uhlaender paces US skeleton

PARK CITY, Utah — Katie Uhlaender was once again the fastest American athlete in the women’s field, finishing seventh, while Matt Antoine was the top American men’s athlete in 12th.

The women were scheduled to kick off the event Saturday, but the jury rescheduled the race after a snowstorm hit Park City early in the morning. The women and men alternated heats Sunday.

Uhlaender, who was ninth in last week’s season-opener, rallied for seventh Sunday. The three-time Olympian was tied for eighth with teammate Kendall Wesenberg after a first run of 50.79 seconds. Uhlaender bettered her time by nearly half a second with a second heat of 50.38 seconds to move up into seventh with a combined time of 1:41.17. Her start times of 5.05 and 5.03 were competitive, but Uhlaender was hoping for faster times.

“I’m disappointed, to be honest,” Uhlaender said. “My start I would have expected to be a little bit faster. I just started another training cycle this week so I think the difference between this season and most others is my goal to peak in February, so 80 days.”

Uhlaender said in addition to her challenging training program, she’s also experimenting with equipment and is sliding on a new sled.

“This new sled is amazing,” Uhlaender said. “It drives with just my eyes. I’m having to break some habits. I’m used to steering more aggressive, using my knees and shoulders, that’s why I renamed my sled Elle — in Stranger Things, 11 moves things with her mind.”

Russia’s Elena Nikitina set a new Park City start record Sunday with a push time of 4.83 seconds in both heats en route to her victory. Nikitina secured her first gold of the season in 1:40.49. Germany’s Tina Hermann was second in 1:40.51, while Jacqueline Loelling, also from Germany, claimed bronze in 1:40.72. Last week’s winner, Austrian Janine Flock, didn’t qualify for a second run Sunday, finishing 22nd.

Wesenberg, after finishing 14th in Lake Placid last week, improved by a spot to finish 13th on her home track. Wesenberg is originally from California, but learned to slide in Park City.

In front of a large contingent of her family and friends, Wesenberg had a solid first run, tying for eighth with Uhlaender in 50.79 seconds heading into her second heat. She could not find the same speed in the second run, however, and fell back four spots after posting the 12th fastest downtime of the heat.

“That first run was alright, there were a couple of things that I wanted to clean up for the second one,” Wesenberg said. “It started to get a little warmer, so I went up a bit in my [runner] rock, which in hindsight may have been a little too aggressive. I mentally felt really good, my starts were about where I thought they should be… it’s a tough field out here. You come out and do your best everyday and sometimes it’s just not quite what you want it to be.

“Park City is my home track so a lot of my friends from college decided to come out for this race. It’s awesome having them here. They’ve never seen skeleton before. They’re honestly excited about just about anything, but they are really excited. My family is here too, which is cool.”

Savannah Graybill rounded out Team USA’s results in 16th. Graybill finished 11th last week in Lake Placid, and was primed to repeat the finish after sitting in 12th between heats, but struggled in her second run and fell back to 16th with a 1:41.88 combined downtime.

“Obviously, I’m pretty disappointed,” Graybill said. “I had high hopes for this track, it’s a gliding track and that’s right in my forte. I struggled with pushing all week and that showed today and didn’t help my cause. I’m disappointed with how the day went and looking forward to getting to Whistler, my favorite track, and redeeming myself there.”

In the men’s race, Antoine was the top American in 12th. Antoine, who was visibly frustrated with his result at the finish, clocked a total time of 1:38.99 after posting runs of 49.64 and 49.35. The 2014 Olympic bronze medalist had consistent start times of 4.69 and 4.70, which were in the mix with the rest of the field.

“I don’t think my runs were bad,” Antoine said. “I don’t have a lot of answers. We’re in a world of hurt right now if we can’t post results on our home track. No one on the team is doing well. Something has to change, otherwise I’m going to Korea just to have fun. Speeds were low and I don’t see how that’s possible. It’s honestly just really embarrassing.”

Korean Sungbin Yun obliterated the field, winning by 0.63 seconds and setting a track record in his second run in 48.50. Yun won just one race last season in Whistler, Canada, but his six medal haul earned him second overall in 2016-2017 points. Yun claimed gold in 1:37.32. Reigning World Cup champion Martins Dukurs finished second in 1:37.95, while German Axel Jungk took bronze in 1:38.07.

Greg West and John Daly, of Smithtown, finished 17th and 18th, respectively. West raced to the finish in 1:39.26 after posting runs of 49.79 and 49.47 to tie for 17th with Spain’s Ander Mirambell. Daly clocked runs of 49.82 and 49.49 for a total time of 1:39.31.Daly and West pushed similar start times; Daly’s best was 4.72 in run one, while West’s top effort was 4.73 in run two.

“I’m pretty happy with my drives today,” West said. “I made a couple of minor mistakes in my first run; I tapped right on one-two, which I haven’t done all week, and over-drove 11 and 12, I was probably just too amped. I also had personal bests on my pushes, so I can’t be upset about that. Obviously, I’m not excited about or happy with the result. But this field is really, really good. It’s an improvement on last week and that’s the goal right now, just to keep improving every week.”

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