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Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.

 

Olympic medalist Matt Antoine retires from skeleton

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Matt Antoine, the 2014 Olympic skeleton bronze medalist, announced his retirement and move to coaching after winning the U.S. selection races for the upcoming World Cup season.

“Even though I know competing isn’t right for me anymore, I still feel like I have a lot to give to the sport,” the two-time Olympian said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “I want to be involved, even if it’s in a different capacity.”

Antoine’s career highlight came in Sochi, but it was tinged with sadness.

Antoine passed countryman John Daly for third place after the third run by .04. In the fourth and final run, Daly’s sled came out of the groove during the start, which sent him into a skid. Daly finished 15th, which all but guaranteed Antoine a medal.

“If I could pick anyone to beat me tonight or get a medal, I’d pick my own teammate Matt Antoine,” Daly said to NBC that night, choking back tears. “The first thing he thought about was consoling me. He said, ‘The only reason I got this medal is because of you. We’re only as good as we are because we had each other.’ He’s the most selfless person I know.”

Antoine joined 2002 Olympic gold medalist Jim Shea, his inspiration to switch from snowboarding, as the only U.S. men to earn skeleton medals since it was re-added to the program for the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

“It’s definitely the best moment of my life, without a doubt,” Antoine said that night at the Sanki Sliding Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Antoine, 33, said a year later that he was diagnosed with depression and that he nearly retired after Sochi.

“Everyone, at some point, needs help,” Antoine said then, according to The Associated Press. “At first I almost felt defeated that I had to seek medical and professional help. It felt like I had lost.

“I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Antoine bought a house in Phoenix, adopted Dixie, a golden retriever, and regained control of his life. He ended his Olympic career with an 11th-place finish in PyeongChang.

Antoine was the top U.S. slider on the World Cup the last five years, finishing between third and eighth in the standings, and the only American man to make a World Cup podium in the last eight years.

At his first skeleton tryout 15 years ago, Antoine was told he wasn’t good enough and sent home. He came back the next winter and made the development team.

“I knew after one run that it was something I loved and wanted to do,” he said.

Daly’s career is likely over after he came out of retirement and placed 16th in PyeongChang. Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender did not slide in World Cup selection races, and it’s unclear if she will compete this season.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Lizzy Yarnold, double Olympic skeleton champion, retires

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Lizzy Yarnold, the 2014 and 2018 Olympic skeleton champion for Great Britain, has retired from the sport.

“I have lived out my dream and achieved far more than I ever thought possible in my 10 years in the sport,” Yarnold said, according to the Guardian. “but it’s time to move on. I am ready for a fresh challenge.”

Yarnold, 29, became the first Brit to earn multiple Olympic titles with her repeat gold in PyeongChang in February — and the first skeleton slider with two golds.

“At PyeongChang I didn’t want to go into the race thinking about retiring, and then afterwards I didn’t want to make the decision for the wrong reason, in rash emotion,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph. “So now when I’ve gone through all this rehab for the past six months [plus July back surgery], I’m retiring for the right reasons — not through injury, not for a bad competition, or any other reason but because I love the sport, and I’ve loved 10 years of it, but I think I’m ready.”

Yarnold bowing out further boosts 23-year-old German Jacqueline Lölling‘s hopes for a third straight World Cup season title and repeat world title this winter. Lölling and 30-year-old Brit Laura Deas took silver and bronze in South Korea behind Yarnold, who erased a .02 deficit to Austrian Janine Flock with a track record on her fourth and final run.

Yarnold’s chief rival leading into her first Olympics in Sochi in 2014 was the now-retired Noelle Pikus-Pace, one of the great American stories of those Games.

Yarnold dominated in Russia with the fastest run all four times down the track. Pikus-Pace, a mother of two, came out of a two-year retirement in 2012 and grabbed silver, four years after missing bronze in Vancouver by one tenth of a second.

Yarnold also earned a World Cup season title in 2014 and a world championship in 2015.

Great Britain, not a winter sports power, earned at least one medal in evrey Olympic women’s skeleton competition — Alex Coomber took bronze in 2002, Shelley Rudman silver in 2006 and Amy Williams gold in 2010.

“That feeling when you leave the changing room, walk out to the start block, with your jacket done up and your salopettes on and crash helmet in hand — a feeling of almost growing two inches taller because of being empowered, feeling in control,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph, “there’s something so magical about that, so I will miss that. But it’s also really tiring.”

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