(Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
It was a battle, but the US’s Katie Uhlaender is now the 2012 world champion of skeleton.
If that were the end of the story it would be amazing enough, but there’s so much more. Uhlaender’s story has been one of tragedy and now triumph. In 2008 Uhlaender, daughter of MLB player and coach Ted Uhlaender, won a silver medal at the skeleton world championships in Altenberg, Germany. It appeared that she was poised to become the next superstar of the sport, but as the next season progressed, it seemed that a curse was laid on Uhlaender.
During the final world cup competition of the 2009 season, in which Katie finshed 2nd, she received word that her father had died of multiple myeloma, she was devastated by the loss and didn’t hear of his passing until after the competition was over. Three months later, Uhlaender shattered her kneecap in a snowmobiling accident. After multiple surgeries she petitioned for, and received, a medical exemption to slide in the 2009-10 skeleton season and qualified to compete at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where she finished 11th.
It was after Vancouver that she began in earnest preparing herself for a seemingly impossible task: To continue her quest to become the world’s best skeleton racer, and qualify to represent the US in the 2012 Summer Olympics in the sport of weightlifting. Perhaps she needed the huge goal to keep her motivated, but she had one more big obstacle in her way: After a weightlifting event in 2010, doctors discovered she had also damaged her femur in the snowmobiling accident. Uhlaender required one more surgery, her 8th over the span of a year.
Today however, there were no more injuries and no more bad luck. Uhlaender performed brilliantly over the four races of this year’s 2012 FIBT World Skeleton Championships. In each race she was consistently at the top of the field and on the back of her strong starts made almost no mistakes as she raced, head-first at 74mph, down the 20-turn course that makes up the Lake Placid Olympic Track.
Uhlaender said after the race: ”I feel like I broke the curse. It’s the first time that I’ve stood on the line and not cursed that he [her father] wasn’t here.”
And now? Katie is one of four women qualified in her weight class for the 2012 US Olympic trials in weightlifting. She has just ten days to recover, get to Ohio, and again perform at the peak of her ability. It will be a tough goal – the US has only two spots per weight class in women’s weightlifting for London – but one thing is for sure, Katie Uhlaender does not back away from tough goals.
Canada’s Mellisa Hollingsworth also had a fantastic weekend, ending in 2nd overall. Hollingsworth finished the four runs with a combined time only 17 hundredths of a second behind Uhlaender. Great Britain’s Elizabeth Yarnold had an incredible last run to vault herself into the medals. She finished in 3rd, 36 hundredths of a second behind the pace set by Uhlaender.
The US’s other athlete, Annie O’Shea also had a very solid weekend. The former track athlete was one of the best on the starts, but a few mistakes on day one cost her some positions. She finished in the top ten, pulling herself from 12th to 10th in the final run.
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