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Antoine in 11th position after first two runs

Matt Antoine brakes in the finish area after his second skeleton run in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP photo — Wong Maye-E)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Matt Antoine is 11th and John Daly sits in the 13th position after the first two heats of men’s skeleton competition at the Olympic Sliding Center in Alpensia. The Olympic medal deciding runs will take place tonight at 7:30 p.m Eastern time.

Antoine, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist from Wisconsin, has been struggling to navigate corners two and nine on the 2018 track throughout training and had trouble with curve nine in Wednesday’s opening heat. He clocked a start of 4.83 for a run of 51.16 seconds, 12th best of the field.

“First run was pretty disappointing for sure,” Antoine said. ” I didn’t have a very good start and didn’t have a good curve nine, which are things you can’t do here.”

Eager to clean up his mistakes in the second run, Antoine bettered his start to 4.79 and posted the eighth fastest run of the second heat, 50.98 seconds, to move up one spot and close in on his competition. Antoine is now a reachable 0.48 seconds from the top-six with a two-run combined time of 1:42.14.

“The second run was the cleanest I’ve ever had on this track, so it’s good to know that I can do it,” Antoine said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to replicate that tomorrow.”

Antoine is a nine-time World Cup medalist and this is his second Olympics. His teammate, Daly, edged him for an Olympic spot in Vancouver, but Antoine emerged as the top American going into Sochi, where he claimed bronze. It was the first men’s skeleton medal since Jimmy Shea’s gold medal performance at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Daly, of Smithtown, New York, was consistent Wednesday, posting start times of 4.81 and 4.84 for runs of 51.23 and 51.15 seconds, respectively. He’s currently tied for 13th position with China’s Wenqiang Geng with a total of 1:42.38.

“Curve nine in the first heat, I think I peaked too soon, that’s what caused me to break into a skid in the first run,” Daly said. “The second run, I committed to it and trusted it and it seemed to track straight. I’m happy with the runs, going to try to pick up some more speed tomorrow, but I’m happy with it. Tomorrow, I just want to enjoy these last few runs. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get another run in the Olympics again. It may be a way to say goodbye to my career and close this chapter in my life, I don’t know, but I’m just going to try to enjoy it.”

This is Daly’s third Olympics. He finished 17th at the 2010 Vancouver Games and had a heartbreaking 15th-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games. He was in fourth position after the third heat, but dropped 11 spots after his sled popped the groove at the start. Daly retired after that final run, but he returned to the sport during the 2016-2017 season to, in his words, “leave on my own terms.”

“I’m at peace with today,” Daly said. “Sure, I wish my runs were faster, but I feel good about it. This race is about so much more than a finish time for me.”

Korean Sungbin Yun smashed his home track’s former track record previously held by Latvian Martins Dukurs, and currently sits in first place overall by a huge margin of 0.74 seconds. Yun, who won the overall World Cup title this season, posted start times of 4.62 and 4.59 en route to downtimes of 50.28 and 50.07 seconds. Yun also broke his own start record, previously 4.61 seconds, with his second-heat push. The Korean is the favorite to win the Olympic gold medal after winning five World Cup races this season and never finishing below second place.

Olympic Athlete from Russia Nikita Tregubov trails Yun in second place after stringing together runs of 50.59 and 50.50 seconds. Tregubov finished sixth in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and took the bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships in Koenigssee, Germany. He was fifth overall in this season’s World Cup standings.

Dukurs, a five-time world champion, is also in the mix, sitting in third place after two runs. Dukurs, who has won two Olympic silver medals, posted start times of 4.69 and 4.68 and crossed the finish line in 50.85 and 50.38 seconds. Considered one of the all-time greats in the sport, Dukurs has won eight overall World Cup titles.

Men’s skeleton competition resumes with heats three and four tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time to decide the Olympic podium.

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