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Utah's Noelle Pikus-Pace won a World Cup skeleton race for the first time in more than eight years on Friday, racing to gold on one of her favorite tracks in Germany and assuring that she's back on top after returning from a 21/2-year retirement.
The Orem native and Eagle Mountain resident had not won on the World Cup circuit since Dec. 18, 2004 early in the season in which she won the overall World Cup title.
"It's been so long since I've won a World Cup race that I'm having a tough time accepting it," Pikus-Pace said. "It seems surreal. One of my regrets looking back was that I didn't enjoy the moment enough when I was winning. So I'm going to let myself enjoy this win for the weekend before looking ahead to the next race."
Pikus-Pace clocked a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 47.51 seconds Friday, blazing down the course in Koenigssee so fast on her second run that she went from trailing Canada's Sarah Reid by 0.03 seconds to blitzing the field by a whopping 0.41 seconds.
Germany's Marion Thees vaulted to second place in 1:47.92, while teammate Anja Huber was third in 1:48.03.
The 30-year-old Pikus-Pace returned to the World Cup circuit this season, after taking time off to raise two children with her husband. With the help of sponsors and donors, the entire family has been traveling around Europe this season as Pikus-Pace chases her dream of winning a medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. She already has earned two bronze medals this season.
"It felt incredible" to win, she said. "It was so good to hear the national anthem played, especially on foreign soil. It's all coming together, and I can't thank our supporters enough for helping us make this happen the coaches, our family, our friends, everyone. I am so much more relaxed this season than ever before because of their help."
Pikus-Pace was a favorite to win gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics, but suffered a broken leg when she was hit by a runaway bobsled only about four months before the Games began, and she was not able to qualify. Four years later, she finished a disappointing fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in Canada, before announcing her retirement.
Her victory Friday also means Pikus-Pace has a shot at winning the new "Triple Trophy," which will be awarded along with 100,000 Euros, or about $133,000 to any athlete who wins the World Cup races this season in Koenigssee; Igls, Austria; and Sochi. The Igls race is Jan. 18, and the season-ending Sochi race is Feb. 15.
"It's insane," Pikus-Pace said. "I didn't even know about the trophy until after I won and someone mentioned it. I honestly don't want to think about it. I just need to take it one curve at a time, and one race at a time."