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Gale boosts lead; men’s event is ‘3-way dogfight’

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Tristan Gale, Salt Lake City, lengthened her lead in women's Olympic skeleton qualifying races Friday, while the men's event turned into what one competitor calls a "three-way dogfight."

Gale, 21, is recovering from rib cartilage damage suffered in a congratulatory hug a week before. She won that day's race, came in second in the following and now has handily won the third race. The final event is Sunday.

One woman definitely will represent the United States in the Winter Games, and another may be named if this country does well enough in international competition. For men's skeleton, two are certain to go to the Olympics and three are probable.

Two men already are on the U.S. skeleton team because of their performance on the international circuit: Jim Shea Jr. of Lake Placid, N.Y., and Chris Soule, Trumbull, Conn. Shea, a third-generation Olympian, said he is proud to represent the country.

He offered this thought on Friday: "A lot of people are losing the perspective of the Games. The Games are about representing your country and having fun and getting the world together in a peaceful, friendly competition."

Top contenders for the third man's position (assuming a third sled will race) are Brady Canfield, an Air Force major stationed at Hill Air Force base whose hometown is Red Lodge, Mont.; Brian McDonald, 30, from Kingston, N.Y.; and Lincoln Dewitt, a computer programmer from Park City. They finished Friday's races in that order.

Canfield's time in two heats was 1:38.65. McDonald was 0.11 second behind him, while DeWitt was 0.36 off the pace Canfield set. Altogether, 14 men raced, with the slowest 4.47 seconds behind Canfield.

The previous Friday, DeWitt was second to McDonald. But in the next race, DeWitt was first while McDonald finished fifth.

In both earlier qualifiers, Canfield finished third. He said after the second race that his key to winning would be "starting faster."

Canfield made good on that Friday. His push time in the second of the two heats was 4.97, "pretty close to my personal best." His new goal is to beat that time Sunday.

As Canfield was talking with reporters, McDonald joked, "He's all spent for Sunday, that push right there."

Canfield, winking and smiling, deadpanned, "Yes, I am."

He explained that on Friday he gave everything he had "because I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The fact is, if I don't win today and Sunday's race, I don't go to the Games. And I had to win today."

How did he do it?

"I didn't hold back anything. I didn't try to worry about muscles pulling or anything else at the top, I didn't worry about getting hurt. I didn't worry about anything. All I wanted to do was go as fast as I possibly could, because if I didn't win today it didn't matter what happens Sunday."

He was not hurt, and now he is a top contender along with McDonald and DeWitt.

When McDonald completed his second run, he shouted in glee and bobbed his head, and other athletes hurried to congratulate him.

"Oh, I feel great!" McDonald said.

"I got a first and a second (in the three races) and that should put me right on the top, or if not, extremely close to it. . . . It's a three-way dogfight for Sunday."

If he had not finished well on Friday, "I'd have been pretty much out of it, assuming Lincoln did well."

Now, he said, he has a chance. The rules of this series allow an athlete to throw out one race and rely on the best three.

"I have a fifth-place finish, which obviously is getting tossed," McDonald said. "So for me it all comes down to Sunday."

On his final heat Friday, he was in the groove. "I just nailed everything," McDonald said.

Gale won two of the first three races, coming in second in the middle race. That went to Lea Ann Parsley, a firefighter from Granville, Ohio, who has flames painted on her helmet. Parsley was second to Gale in the other races.

Gale won the first heat Friday at 50:57. Her time in the other heat earned her only third rank (after Colleen Rush of Park City and Parsley), but the first heat made up for it.

Combined time of Gale's two runs was an impressive 1:41.63, which was 0.16 of a second ahead of Parsley and 0.20 ahead of Rush.

"Congratulations, honey!" yelled her mother, Marsha Gale. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," she replied, "I wanted to puke, but the second run was not nearly as bad."

Gale explained the sickness comment was because she gets worked up before races. "I get nervous like two days before the race, and it never calms down until right now," meaning the finish.

She wore a kneepad on her chest because of the cartilage injury but said she was "much better. Every day it got better from the day of the injury."

How does she feel with one more qualifying race to go?

"Good," said Gale. "The more I win by, the more I can lose by, Sunday. So I won by quite a bit. That'll give me a lot of speed points. But if I can just win Sunday's, too, then I don't have to worry about anything."

Asked why she seemed calmer after this win, Gale jokingly affected a blase voice: "Because I'm — I'm all used to it now."

E-mail: bau@desnews.com