Antoine to go for the gold in the Winter Olympics

Antoine heading to Russia
Prairie du Chien’s Matt Antoine will be representing the United States in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Matt Antoine

IGLS, Austria – The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) has announced that Prairie du Chien’s Matt Antoine is among the athletes who will represent the United States in the women’s and men’s skeleton events at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Antoine, John Daly (Smithtown, NY) and Kyle Tress (Ewing, NJ) qualified for the three available men’s positions. Noelle Pikus-Pace (Orem, Utah) and Katie Uhlaender (Breckenridge, Colo.) earned the two women’s spots. 

“The quality of this skeleton Olympic Team is amazing,” said USBSF CEO Darrin Steele. “Anything can happen at the Games, so we take nothing for granted. But if these five athletes give their best, any one of them is capable of bringing home a medal.”

Antoine has a had a breakthrough season, collecting three medals this season, including his first career World Cup victory in Lake Placid, NY. He may be one of only a few elite athletes in the world that can challenge Latvian Martins Dukurs for gold in Sochi.

Per International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation rules, nations were allocated spots based on rank in international points following seven competitions during the 2013-2014 season. The U.S. was one of only three nations that qualified to enter the maximum of three entrants in the men’s discipline. Only the top two nations in women’s skeleton were allocated three athletes, and the U.S. was one of four countries to qualify two.

The Olympic skeleton events will be held in a four-heat format over two days of racing. The women will race Feb. 13-14, while the men will compete Feb. 14-15. 

Daly, Antoine, and Tress finished 5-6-8, respectively, on the 1976 Olympic track in Igls this weekend.

“Today was a good day for all three guys,” said U.S. Skeleton Head Coach Tuffy Latour. “Having all three of them finish in the top eight is great, and we’re heading in the right direction before Sochi.”

Antoine pushed a start of 5.10 seconds for a run of 54.14 seconds to tie his teammate, Tress, for 12th in the first heat. Antoine opted to push in the right groove versus the left, which he used in the first run, in the second heat and bettered his start by nearly one-tenth of a second with a push of 5.01 seconds. He didn’t hold anything back on his final run and moved up an astounding six positions into sixth place with a combined time of 1:47.66.

“Pushing in the left groove killed me,” Antoine said. “I instantaneously knew it was the wrong decision once I started the run, and on a track like this where the push means everything it’s difficult to make up time. I felt like I had a great run, but I was frustrated. I gained a little confidence back by rebounding in the second run.”

Antoine, 29, became interested in skeleton after watching the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Games on television back home in Prairie du Chien. Even being cut from his first tryout with the national team didn’t kill his interest. Twelve years later, he has become an Olympian for the first time. 

Antoine won the Lake Placid World Cup in December, which was his first career World Cup win, and he is ranked No. 4 in the world. He has finished no lower than seventh place in World Cup competitions this season and was first in every competition and training run on the Olympic course in Lake Placid.

Antoine has overcome a knee injury, which led to a disappointing season last year, and now has become one of America’s medal favorites. 

The skeleton competition will be held at the Sanki Sliding Centre, which is located at the Alpika Service Mountain Ski Resort and is the first extensive sliding center to be built in Russia. It will also be host to the bobsled and luge competition. State-of-the-art technology allows for controlled temperatures along the entire course and it was designed to be one of the most challenging courses in the world. The venue can accommodate up to 9,000 spectators.

Competing in skeleton is not for the faint of heart. After a running start that is helped by spiked shoes, an athlete plops face down and head first on a sled going down an icy track. Yes, helmets are required. Skeleton athletes will go 70 to 80 miles per hour on the Olympic track and there are no brakes. Two highly polished runners are situated underneath the sled, but they may not be heated. The temperature of the runners is checked electronically prior to each athlete’s run.

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