Antoine takes bronze

Antoine gets bronze
Prairie du Chien’s Matt Antoine pumps his fist following his medal-winning run Saturday.
Antoine, bronze
Some of the many fans of Matt Antoine cheer while watching one of Matt’s runs during an Olympic celebration in support of Matt held by Jim’s Bar of Prairie du Chien Friday and Saturday. (Photo by Ted Pennekamp)

 

Antoine brings home bronze medal

On Saturday morning, with many of his hometown fans watching and cheering him on, Prairie du Chien’s Matt Antoine won the bronze medal in the men’s skeleton at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Matt laid down two flawless runs at the Sanki Sliding Center on Saturday to secure the bronze. Antoine was in fourth after Friday’s first two heats, but moved 0.32 seconds ahead of Tomass Dukurs in the final run to claim a podium position.

“It’s unbelievable,” the 28-year-old Antoine said. “It’s going to take some time to process it for sure, but it’s the greatest moment of my life without a doubt. I’ve been preparing for this moment, but it’s still just unreal right now.”

Antoine and teammate John Daly (Smithtown, N.Y.) were third and fourth, respectively, after the third heat, separated by just .04 seconds, making the race for bronze between the two best friends. Daly and Antoine have been in this position before, having battled one another in points for a spot on the 2010 Olympic team. It was Daly who earned an Olympic berth after winning six consecutive races on the Intercontinental and America’s Cup circuits.  Daly was disappointed to finish 17th in Vancouver, and he vowed to dedicate another four years to perfecting his sport so he could get another chance to not only represent his country, but to vie for a medal.

While Antoine was heartbroken to miss the 2010 Olympics, he also dedicated another four years to the sport with the goal of medaling here in Sochi. Despite a few bumps along the way, including knee surgery before the 2012-2013 season, Antoine emerged as one of few athletes in the world that could challenge tour de force Martins Dukurs of Latvia. 

The bronze medal would be decided in the fourth and final heat. Daly was the first of the two to take his run. He burst off the starting block, but just before loading onto his sled, the sled popped out of the start groove. Daly scrambled to load, but the sled skidded, bumped a wall and his chances of securing a spot on the medal stand fell away. He dropped into 15th with a four-run combined time of 3:49.11.

“I went for it, and I don’t regret going for it,” Daly said. “I do wish I had one more chance. The sole blame was on myself, there’s no one else to blame here but me. I know I left it all there, but I really do wish for the first time in my career that I had a second chance, and I didn’t have to wait four more years.”

Antoine heard the groans as he was walking to the start line and he said he knew something bad had happened.  Coach Tuffy Latour reassured Antoine before he prepared for his final run in his Olympic debut, and Antoine took a deep breath before laying down a medal-winning run. He pumped his fists in the air as he crossed the finish line in 3:47.26 to secure bronze, and sought out his family and friends in the stands to celebrate.

“Over the season, Matt has been able to hit the reset button and focus on what is now in front of him and not focus on looking back,” said Matt’s brother Nick DeJulio, who was one of several family members and friends wearing cheeseheads in the stands. Matt was not thrilled with his first two heats on Thursday, so he changed the runners on his sled to account for the softer ice created by the warm temperatures. His two runs on Saturday made him an Olympic medalist.

Alexander Tretiakov of Russia and Martins Dukurs convincingly claimed gold and silver, respectively, with a dominant lead over the rest of the field. Tretiakov (The Russian Rocket) maintained his overnight lead to win Olympic gold in front of a hometown crowd with a combined time of 3:44.29. Dukurs, the World Cup points winner, finished 0.81 seconds behind Tretiakov for silver, but he was a distant 2.16 seconds ahead of Antoine.

“They pushed phenomenally well, they drove phenomenally well, and it really was a race between one of them,” Antoine said.  “Realistically everyone knew we were racing for bronze, so hats off to them.”

As Antoine celebrated his performance during the flower ceremony, Daly walked through the media mixed zone. He paused after each sentence to collect himself, obviously heartbroken over his finish.

“My heart really goes out to John for the way that ended for him,” Antoine said. “We’ve pushed each other to be where we are for our entire career, and I don’t think either one of us would be where we are today, contending for a medal, if we hadn’t been supporting one another along the way.”

Now that he has won the bronze medal, Matt has a busy schedule for the immediate future. 

“Wow! Not even sure what to say. But yeah that just happened, said Matt’s brother Nick about Matt’s medal winning performance. “So proud and excited for Matt as he has worked so hard and overcome so much to get here! He is very excited and is so grateful to everyone who has cheered him along.”

Nick noted that after Matt received his bronze medal Sunday, he went to the USA House for a ceremony and celebration. The USA House is for family members of the U.S. athletes. Before going to the USA House, the day began  with a few media stops including the Today Show where the entire family joined in.

All of Matt’s fans back here in Prairie du Chien were celebrating on Saturday as well, with many adorned in “Matt Antoine” buttons and T-shirts while riveted to the television screen Saturday morning. Antoine was still the talk of the town on Sunday and is sure to remain so for quite some time. 

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