Pikus-Pace back on national skeleton team
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) --Noelle Pikus-Pace retired two years ago, vowing that her decision was final.
She's now back on the U.S. national skeleton team.
The former world champion was among 10 athletes picked late Thursday for the 2012-13 team, which starts competing next week when the first World Cup competition of the season is held in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Reigning world champion Katie Uhlaender and Kimber Gabryszak will start the season representing the U.S. women on the World Cup circuit, as will men's sliders Matt Antoine, John Daly and Kyle Tress. Pikus-Pace will start on the North American Cup circuit, and four other Americans - Annie O'Shea, Brad Stewart, Tom Santagato and Mike Dellemann - are headed to the Intercontinental Cup series.
U.S. officials finalized the team choices after the fourth and final selection race was held earlier Thursday in Park City, Utah. The selection series started last week in Lake Placid.
"Our team will be competitive on all circuits with the Germans, Latvians and British teams," U.S. coach Tuffy Latour said in a statement. "I really need to credit the Olympic Regional Development Authority and the Utah Olympic Park for their development programs, because we now have a deep field of athletes that we expect to medal on all of the international tours this season."
Uhlaender and Antoine had byes onto the national team, based on their performances last season. In the selection races, Pikus-Pace was dominant on her way to winning all four women's events, and Daly went 4-for-4 on the men's side.
"We have the best coaches, our sleds are coming around, and we have all the tools we need to be successful," Daly said. "I'm really excited to start the international competitive season now."
Pikus-Pace will likely be back on the World Cup circuit soon enough.
She was the Olympic favorite heading into the 2006 Turin Games before an out-of-control bobsled sailed past the end of a track and into Pikus-Pace, badly breaking one of her legs. She missed those Olympics, finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and retired afterward primarily because she wanted to spend more time with her family.
This season, her family plans to come along for the ride. They were at the selection races and are expected to travel with Pikus-Pace to competitions.
"I didn't know what to expect going into this season because it's been so long since I've competed," Pikus-Pace said. "Once I got on the sled for the first time in Lake Placid a couple weeks ago it all clicked again. I knew then it was going to be a good season, and it's actually starting out to be a great season."
She's not yet eligible for the World Cup. The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation ordinarily mandates that, for World Cup eligibility, an athlete must compete in five races on four tracks over 24 months. However, they have granted Pikus-Pace a waiver for World Cup once she competes in four races on two tracks.
Once she competes in North American Cup races at Park City and Calgary, she'll have satisfied that requirement.
"We're on the sleds by ourselves, but this really is a team sport," Pikus-Pace said. "The goal is to have the best athletes and the most number of athletes competing at the highest level, and that's what the coaches are trying to do. I'm looking forward to helping the team earn back the third sled on (the World Cup) tour and can't wait for the next race."