Winter sports • Orem native takes first on Sochi track.
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In what she hopes is a sign of things to come, Utah's Noelle Pikus-Pace led a 1-2 American finish Saturday in a season-ending World Cup women's skeleton race on the track that will be used for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia next year.
"I can't believe it," Pikus-Pace said. "I'm going to take this all in now, but I know next year will be a different story. I have to wipe the slate clean and give it my best, and hopefully my best will be better than everyone else's so I'm back on the podium a year from now."
It was the second victory of the season for Pikus-Pace, who amazingly has medaled in five of the past six World Cup races in her first year back in competition after a 2½-year retirement.
Two-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender of Colorado finished second.
An Orem native and Eagle Mountain resident, the 30-year-old Pikus-Pace finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, then retired to raise her two children. But she decided to make a comeback this season, with her husband and kids traveling with her around Europe on the World Cup circuit.
She has made herself one of the favorites to win gold next year in Sochi, and blazed through her second run in Ryzhanaya Polyana on Saturday to overtake Uhlaender with a two-run combined time of 1 minutes, 58.91 seconds 0.11 seconds faster than her teammate.
"This is such an exciting moment," Pikus-Pace said. "Katie and I on the podium together shows how strong we are going into the Olympic season, and a lot of that can be attributed to a great coaching staff and amazing support. This definitely gives me confidence going into next season, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can do a year from now."
Uhlaender had the fastest time of the first run while Pikus-Pace made some driving mistakes, but Pikus-Pace turned things around in the second run. She had the fastest time in the field, while Uhlaender lost time with a mistake in one of the corners.
Park City's Steven Holcomb finished a disappointing 12th in the two-man bobsled race later Saturday, marking the fifth time in six races (all in Europe) that the former world champion has missed the podium after winning the first three races of the season in North America.
American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest women's slalom world champion in 39 years in Schladming, Austria.
At the age of 17 years, 340 days, Shiffrin beat all of her more experienced rivals to earn the U.S. team its fourth gold and fifth medal overall at the worlds, more than any other nation.
"It's such a crazy day," Shiffrin said. "It's so emotional. ... I don't know yet, I can't feel yet. It's amazing."
Shiffrin was third after the opening run but finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 39.85 seconds to beat Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria by 0.22 and Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 0.26.
In Sochi, Russia, Torin Yater-Wallace led an American 1-2 finish in the men's freestyle skiing halfpipe event, his second World Cup victory this season.
Switzerland's Virginie Faivre won the women's competition ahead of two Canadians at Roza Khutor Extreme Park the venue for halfpipe's Olympic debut at next year's Sochi Games.
Yater-Wallace fell at the end of his first run but responded in the second heat and was awarded 93.8 points.
Sara Takanashi of Japan won a women's ski jump World Cup event in Ljubno, Slovenia, to extend her lead in the overall standings.
The 16-year-old Takanashi had jumps of 88.5 and 88 meters on the normal hill to earn a total of 225.1 points for her seventh victory of the season. Sarah Hendrickson of the United States was second with 214.2 points.