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Noelle Pikus-Pace redeems herself, earns gold in record-setting time in final skeleton competition on home track

PARK CITY — Noelle Pikus-Pace couldn’t contain her joy, and frankly, she didn’t even try.

The Orem native won a skeleton World Cup gold medal in record-setting time in her final competition on the track where she first attempted the sport. It was a perfect moment for the 30-year-old UVU graduate, made even sweeter because the mother of two was disqualified after winning last week’s World Cup in Calgary for having a nickel-sized piece of tape on the handle of her sled.

“I was obviously a train wreck,” Pikus-Pace said of her mental state as she trained in the wake of the disqualification that one of her coaches called a travesty. “I was an emotional wreck all week. From high to low, to high to low, and just back and forth. I am very fortunate to have a loving and caring husband, Jansen, and he just brought me back and helped me to stay focused.”

Few athletes know how to overcome disappointment and setbacks better than Pikus-Pace, whose first Olympic trials in 2005 ended when a runaway bobsled smashed into her leg. She finished fourth in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games — one-tenth of a second away from bronze. Pikus-Pace came out of retirement this summer after realizing she had unfinished business on the track in the wake of a devastating miscarriage.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity we have to have agency, and the agency to choose and to make the decision whether we let things hold us back or whether we let them push us forward,” she said grinning.

In this case, she said encouragement from her family and friends helped her turn what could have been a debilitating disappointment into inspiration for Friday’s race.

“It’s not a distant memory,” Pikus-Pace said between her first and second runs. “I think you just grow from experiences, and it’s just lit a fire in me, and I have a passion that I haven’t had in a long, long time — if ever.”

The last skeleton athlete to race, Pikus-Pace broke the track record of 49.91 with a scorching time of 48.80. Her second run (49.74) was even faster than the track record, which gave her a gold medal time of 1:39.54. Great Britain’s Elizabeth Yarnold, who was the beneficiary of Pikus-Pace’s disqualification last week as she was bumped from silver to gold, was second with a combined time of 1:40.22.

Canadian Sarah Reid was third with a time of 1:40.60.

When asked if she had redemption on her mind during Friday’s race, she paused.

“I know that I have integrity,” she said. “And I know that I would never do anything to jeopardize my reputation or that of those who support me. Integrity means everything to me so I know when I compete, I compete fair and I compete clean.”

Pikus-Pace laughed when asked how quickly the tape came off her sled after the disqualification.

“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “I was kind of done. I was pretty upset. My coach took it off for me.”

She said that unlike other times in her life when she’s tried to savor and enjoy special competitions like Friday’s final run on her home track, she had only one thing on her mind as she prepared to race the world’s best at the Utah Olympic Park — winning.

“As I stood up there, the only thing on my mind was just, ‘I’m going to lay it down. I’m going to throw down and I’m going to bring it today.’ That was really the only thing going through my mind.”

Pikus-Pace said she was inspired by the bronze medal performance of one of her teammates.

“To see Matt Antoine lay down the runs he had and have a podium finish, it was just inspiring me for my second run.”

Antoine finished with a time of 1:37.73, while Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov won gold with a time of 1:37.59. Martin Dukurs of Latvia was second with a time of 1:37.56.

Pikus-Pace was jubilant as she high-fived fans, hugged her family and led the crowd in a cheer of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” during her televised flower ceremony.

“It was incredible,” Pikus-Pace. “This obviously is the fastest ice I’ve ever been on. I’ve been chasing this record for 15 years. … It’s just been an incredible ride. ... It’s just been an awesome day. It’s been incredible the support I’ve had.” And as for her track record, she shook her head and continued grinning.

“What more can you hope for than a gold medal?” she said of returning to the track where her passion for skeleton was born. “It can’t get any better than a gold medal (and) a track record. ... I’ve never come close to (the track record). It’s pretty amazing.”

World Cup skeleton race story for Saturday's paper (Dec. 7)

Noelle Pikus-Paces winning a skeleton World Cup gold medal in record-setting time on her hometown track Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.

World Cup skeleton race story for Saturday's paper (Dec. 7)

Noelle PIkus-Pace celebrates with friends and family after winning a skeleton World Cup gold medal

at the Utah Olympic Park in record-setting time.

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