PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Noelle Pikus-Pace spent her entire career chasing the track record at Park City. She owns it now, and earned a big measure of vindication in the process.
The resident of nearby Eagle Mountain set that long-elusive record twice Friday on the way to grabbing the gold medal at the second World Cup skeleton race of the season. She pulled off the victory one week after being disqualified from what would have been a win in the circuit's season-opening race.
"When we go through hard times we have a choice to make," Pikus-Pace said. "We can either let it get us down or we can push forward and see what we're made of. And I just feel like that's what today was about, just seeing what I was made of. We always have a choice. And so I'm grateful for all the love and support that I've received. This has been incredible, a track record. I've been chasing this for 15 years."
Everyone was chasing her Friday. Pikus-Pace was the only woman in the field to break the 50-second mark on the 2002 Olympic track, and for good measure, she did it twice.
Her two-run time was 1 minute, 39.54 seconds. She set the track record of 49.80 seconds in the opening run despite being the last woman down the chute, and then topped that mark not long afterward, capping the victory in 49.74 seconds.
Her four closest pursuers were slower in their second runs. Not Pikus-Pace, who was cheered by a large group of local fans in what will almost certainly be her last competitive race in Park City. She plans on retiring, again and for good, after the Sochi Olympics in February.
Britain's Elizabeth Yarnold finished 0.68 seconds back in 1:40.22. Canada's Sarah Reid took third in 1:40.60.
"I'm three times the bridesmaid at this track, never the bride," Yarnold said.
It was Pikus-Pace's first win at Park City. Katie Uhlaender of the U.S. finished 14th.
Pikus-Pace's disqualification at the opener in Calgary came after she was originally announced as the winner, but an appeal presented by British officials led to the examination of some tape that she applies to her handle. The tape was cleared by sliding officials earlier in the week, a decision that was apparently erroneous.
"I know I have integrity and I know I would never do anything to jeopardize my reputation as well as those that support me," Pikus-Pace said. "I know when I compete I compete fair and I compete clean. I know I've given it my best whether I win or lose."
Earlier Friday, Russia's Alexander Tretyakov was a surprise winner in the men's skeleton race, topping Latvia's Martins Dukurs — the Sochi gold-medal favorite and first-run leader Friday — by 0.12 seconds, finishing in 1:37.59.
Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin native Matt Antoine was third, 0.14 seconds back. Also for the Americans, Kyle Tress and John Daly were 15th and 16th, respectively.
"It feels great to be back on the podium," Antoine said.
Skeleton racing resumes next week in Lake Placid, N.Y., another track where Pikus-Pace is expected to be among the leaders.