Fastest push but no podium for Uhlaender
CESANA PARIOL, Italy – Katie Uhlaender wants a re-do on her Olympic skeleton race.
The 21-year-old from Breckenridge finished sixth Thursday behind gold medalist Maya Pedersen of Switzerland, Great Britain’s first medalist of the games, Shelley Rudman, who got silver, and Canadian bronze medalist Mellisa Hollingsworthj-Richards.
Only a couple of seconds spread over two runs separated the times of the top six athletes, and less than a second’s time kept Uhlaender off the podium.
Pedersen, a two-time world champion and winner of four World Cups this season, won the race with a two heat combined time of 1 minute, 59.83 seconds. Rudman finished in 2:01.06 and Hollingsworth-Richards in 2:01.41. Uhlaender’s time was 2:02.30.
“I really wish I could have a do-over,” said Uhlaender, who had never done a skeleton race until three years ago. “I want a mulligan. I’m a bit disappointed, I can’t lie, because I know I could have been on that podium.”
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Uhlaender said she had a hard time relaxing, which is key in her sport, where racers begin running alongside or behind their sleds, before diving onto their stomachs head-first and launching down a track of ice, reaching speeds of 80 mph.
“I knew my mistakes were being too excited and not being relaxed enough,” she said. “My lines were there. I know how to drive the sled. I just wasn’t letting it go and letting my body relax.”
Not surprising for a former sprinter, Uhlaender’s running start times in both heats were faster than anyone’s at 5.03 seconds. A big difference in the Olympic skeleton race versus the World Cup events is that in World Cup, racers get four heats instead of just two.
“Right now, I wish we had four heats. Consistently, it shows in training that I would have been a bit higher up,” she said.
Uhlaender had a third-place finish in one of her training heats and found it much easier to relax without the pressure of the event setting. As her father, former major league baseball player Ted Uhlaender warned her, entering into a sport at the very top can be stressful. Before the Olympics, Katie’s father told her that his entrance into baseball was similar to hers into the Olympics, with his first at-bat being in Yankee Stadium surrounded by 60,000 people.
“He was right when he said that first at-bat was hard to deal with it,” Katie said. “Because I was standing up there, and I couldn’t stop shaking.”
Uhlaender was the solitary representative from the United States on Thursday. Ranked fourth in the World Cup, Uhlaender’s season leading up to the Games was rocky with the dismissal of U.S. Skeleton Coach Tim Nardiello following accusations from other team members of sexual harassment .
“It’s all about how you handle it,” Uhlaender said. “Being an elite-level athlete, it’s about how you handle a situation. When a bad situation comes up, you have to handle it smoothly. I tried to stay positive.”
As to being the only American woman competing, Uhlaender felt far from alone in her Olympic debut.
“My mom, dad, little brother, godmother, boyfriend, a few other people from Summit County … they’re all here,” she said. “I had great support. I didn’t feel alone.”
Uhlaender’s posse made up a significant portion of the overall attendees at Thursday’s event. Clearly, women’s skeleton racing, which on Thursday made only its second appearance at the Olympic Games, is an up-and-coming discipline.
“The amount the sport has evolved in the last three years is huge,” Uhlaender said. “There are more athletes getting into the sport. The more athletes involved, the better it will get.”
And to Uhlaender, popularity in the sports mainstream is of little consequence to her.
“I wasn’t looking for fame or glory. I was looking for fun,” she said. “It’s my first Olympics, my third season ever in the sport. I’ve got plenty of time. I had a great experience here.”