Pikus-Pace in prime position

American is fifth on skeleton list

Associated Press / February 19, 2010

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The words on Noelle Pikus-Pace’s sled tell a story.

Just not the whole story.

The night before finally making her Olympic debut, Pikus-Pace spent what seemed like forever getting the names of everyone who’s ever helped her onto her sled - only to find out that such a tribute wouldn’t be allowed.

She might be able to thank them all from the medal stand instead. The 2007 world champion from Eagle Mountain, Utah, is in fifth place after yesterday’s first two runs of the women’s Olympic skeleton event at Whistler, British Columbia, 0.55 seconds away from surprising leader Amy Williams of Britain.

Can she win?

“Oh, yeah,’’ Pikus-Pace said. “There is no doubt in my mind.’’

Williams probably feels exactly the same way.

Not even a medalist on the World Cup circuit this season, Williams is two runs away from her sport’s biggest prize - Olympic gold. Her two-run time of 1 minute 47.96 seconds at the Whistler Sliding Center last night put her 0.30 seconds ahead of Germany’s Kerstin Szymkowiak and 0.39 ticks ahead of Canada’s gold-medal favorite Mellisa Hollingsworth.

“We’re only halfway through,’’ Williams said. “It’s two runs down and we still got two to go and the sport is so tight between each person that anything can happen.’’

There’s no shortage of racers with legitimate chances at gold when the event finishes with two runs today.

It’s only the third time women’s skeleton has been part of the Olympic program. All three medalists from 2006 - Maya Pedersen (gold), Shelley Rudman (silver) and Hollingsworth (bronze) - are in this field, and they’re all looking up in the standings at Williams.

Germany’s Anja Huber is fourth, and Katie Uhlaender of Breckenridge, Colo., is ninth at the midway point.

The unbeaten Canadian men’s curlers are making crucial shots when it counts. John Shuster and the winless American curlers keep missing when it matters most.

Canadian skip Kevin Martin’s foursome has won all three of its matches at the Vancouver Games, the latest a 7-3 victory over Sweden yesterday in a shortened, nine-end game. The Swedes fell behind, 2-0, after the initial end and ultimately conceded because of the large differential.

US skip Shuster’s team lost to Denmark, 7-6, in an extra end - the Americans’ third such defeat in a row - and all but squashed its medal chances with an 0-4 start.

“It hurts right now,’’ US lead John Benton said.

In other matches, Norway defeated Germany, 7-4, and Switzerland handed David Murdoch’s world champion British team its second loss of the tournament, scoring the winning point in the final end for a 4-3 decision.

The Canadian women also stayed unbeaten, defeating Germany, 6-5, in an extra end.

Britain’s women, led by 19-year-old skip Eve Muirhead, thumped Russia, 10-3, in a match that was done after eight ends when the Russians conceded and reigning world champion China beat Japan, 9-5. The Americans fell to 0-3 with a 7-6 loss to Denmark.

That puts the US at 0-7 through the first three days.