Friday November 9, 2012

JOHN KEKIS

AP Sports Writer

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Katie Uhlaender of the United States had a poor first run in the opening race of the World Cup skeleton season on Thursday, then reverted to the form that made her a world champion last year.

She produced the second-fastest time on the second run and was sixth, 0.70 off the leader Sarah Reid of Canada after two heats.

Uhlaender didn’t hesitate when asked about who was the biggest threat on Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid.

"Me!" she said.

Reid had a combined time of 1 minute, 51.72 seconds, just 0.02 ahead of her teammate Mellisa Hollingsworth, while Marion Thees of Germany was third, 0.30 behind.

"The field is so strong, ridiculously strong," said Hollingsworth, who finished second behind Uhlaender at worlds. "You look at the top 10 and any given day any one of those girls can be on top of this podium. I definitely don’t take it for granted that we’re going into tomorrow with a little bit of a lead."

The race is a three-heat event, and only the top 10 sleds qualify for the final heat. American Kimber Gabryszak missed the cut at 13th after a mistake-filled first run.

"Ironically, it’s almost a relief," Gabryszak said. "The competition here is extremely intense. I’m just glad to be here. I had a really rough first run, but the second run was good, so I’m happy with that.

"There is a little rust remembering how to handle the pressure of a World Cup. I used to hate this place, but it’s grown on me. I really thought I had a chance at the top 10, but that first run just killed me."

Uhlaender was 12th after the first heat, 0.76 behind leader Lucy Chaffer of Australia, while Gabryszak was a full second off the pace in 16th place. Uhlaender, who’s also in training for the USA Weightlifting national championships this summer.

After nearly falling off her sled the first time down the 19-turn layout, Uhlaender had reverted to form.

"That second heat I calmed myself down and reminded myself of what I did at worlds," said Uhlaender, who had an automatic spot on the team by winning the world championship title. "I’m really happy that there’s a third heat coming. Hopefully, I can do that again. The field is competitive, but it’s Lake Placid. Anything can happen."

For Reid, the day was a big surprise.

"I had really good training days and things were kind of coming together," she said. "But my best result in the World Cup is sixth place, so to be sitting in first going into day two I’m pretty excited."

Although she’s not here competing for the U.S., Noelle Pikus-Pace’s comeback after two years of retirement is going better than she probably expected. She’s not eligible for World Cup, but that is simply a matter of time.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation ordinarily mandated for World Cup eligibility an athlete must compete in five races on four tracks over 24 months. But the FIBT has given Pikus-Pace a waiver for World Cup once she competes in four races on two tracks.

Pikus-Pace, who swept the four team selection races, competed in North American Cup this week at Park City, Utah, where she won both races. She’ll compete in races next week at Calgary to satisfy the requirement.

Head coach Tuffy Latour said Pikus-Pace and Gabryszak will take turns racing the first half of the nine-race season, and then make a decision on who completes the remainder of the season.

"We always pushed each other, but having Noelle come back and be so far ahead of us has kind of given us a rabbit to chase," Gabryszak said. "I feel like we’re all trying harder than we ever have."

The U.S. women’s team is attempting to qualify a third sled for worlds in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in late January. Currently, Great Britain, Germany, Canada and Russia have three.