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Pair of Utahns are going to Olympics

Gale, DeWitt win skeleton qualifying races

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BEAR HOLLOW — Two Utahns won the right to represent the United States in Olympic skeleton racing as the last qualifying race came to a nail-biting, thrilling conclusion Sunday.

They are Tristan Gale, 21, Salt Lake City, for women's skeleton, and Lincoln DeWitt, 34, Park City, for the men's team. Exuberant spectators yelled, screamed and rang cowbells as the hometown favorites won the Verizon Championship Series.

On the men's side, the outcome of the series — and the choice for a member of the Olympics skeleton team — was uncertain until last sled had flown down the track.

In women's skeleton racing, Gale won again, giving her three gold medals and one silver among the series' four races. Under the rules, an athlete throws out the worst race, so she was victor in every race that counted.

With phenomenal push times of 5.26 and 5.22 seconds in Sunday's two heats, her combined time at the finish was 1:40.69.

Told that she was this country's first woman skeleton racer to go to the Olympics, Gale exclaimed, "I know! Oh my Gosh!"

Her start was what held her back last year. So Gale trained all summer to improve her push time, she said.

"Every day, I woke up and said, 'All right, you've got to be faster tomorrow.'"

Jim Shea Jr., who had a lock on the men's skeleton team, hugged Gale and said, "Welcome to the show, man."

Gale explained that at first on Sunday, she was not sure how the track would feel.

"The track has a mood, it has personality. I mean, it snowed this morning, so I was a little unsure of how to take it. But as soon as I said, 'STOP SNOWING!' it did, and I slid fine."

Second in women's skeleton was Lea Ann Parsley, a firefighter from Granville, Ohio, who finished the two runs 0.21 behind Gale. She took the silver in all races in the series except the second, which she won.

Parsley still might go to the Olympics. If this country's team does well enough in a World Cup event Sept. 17 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the United States will win a second spot for women's skeleton.

Gale promised that she and other members of the team will try to make that happen. "We will try as hard as we can to get her in the Olympics," she said.

The American women will have beat the Swiss on their home track, Gale said. "It'll be a challenge, but we can do it — I think."

Parsley noted she was having trouble with her start. "I don't have a good push in general, which is tough on this kind of track because it's so short," she said.

"We haven't been doing very well as a team so far," she said, assessing chances in St. Moritz. "We have to get our act together and do a better job as a whole."

Men's skeleton was a tight, three-way contest until the end.

Again and again, the races came down to a battle among DeWitt, winner of last season's World Cup; Brady Canfield, an Air Force major who is stationed in Utah but whose hometown is Red Lodge, Mont., and Brian McDonald, a surprise contender from Kingston, N.Y.

Canfield captured the lead in Sunday's first heat with the day's fastest run, 48.94 seconds. But in the second and final heat, he suffered what the announcer called "a little hit" going into Curve 12, then touched the wall as he approached the 15th curve. As a result, his time that run was 49:37, for fifth place.

McDonald took second in both heats.

DeWitt was third on the first run. He could win or lose in the final heat. He turned in a time of 49.06, taking over first place.

Earlier, two athletes were named to the men's team, Chris Soule of Trumbull, Conn., and Shea, of Lake Placid, N.Y., who are second and third in the world. If the United States remains among the top three countries after the Jan. 17 World Cup race in St. Moritz, as seems likely, the team will have one more member — DeWitt.

After the race, Canfield said his second heat "was a bad run." He added that he felt, "a little sore, and I'm tired."

DeWitt had two good training runs on Saturday.

"I just knew I had to push harder than I did in training, and had two runs like I did in training, and that was the best I could do," he said.

Sunday's runs "weren't perfect, but they were both good."

"It was the best two-run combination I've had in any of the races, and it was barely enough."

DeWitt recalled a talk with his father about pressure. Though the competition would be hard and close, they thought whoever came through it would be stronger than before.

"I really think that's true," DeWitt said. "And I really think this forced me to focus and really get things going back in the direction they needed to be going, for February to go well."

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com