Women's skeleton Olympic medal favorites
BY Maxmillian Rottenecker
Just one mistake can be the difference between a gold medal and a disappointing finish at a competition as fierce as the Olympic Winter Games. Here are the women’s skeleton favorites to win it all in Sochi next February:
If you win the overall World Cup, you are automatically the favorite for next season. In 2014 this role will belong to Marion Thees. The German was the most consistent athlete last year and has the potential to finish on the podium anytime she competes in a race. On the other hand, Thees has not dominated the field of athletes in every competition, only finishing 10th at the European Championships and fourth at the Sochi World Cup in 2013. Thees has the potential to win a medal at Sochi, but has to improve her performance on the Olympic track in order to do so.
One of the favorites representing Team USA is two-time Olympian and two-time World Cup champion Katie Uhlaender. With a promising end to her season, Uhlaender has emerged as one of the top candidates for an Olympic medal in 2014. As the third ranked women overall in the World Cup and a second place finish at Sochi, she was able to lead a strong group of American athletes. Uhlaender has shown that she can win races as well, like she did in the World Cup races in Park City and La Plagne this past season. A medal in Sochi would be the biggest victory of her career and Uhlaender has the potential to make it a reality.
The second member of the U.S. team with an opportunity to shine in Sochi is Noelle Pikus-Pace. Her 11th place finish in the overall World Cup rankings do not reflect her end to the past season, where she was able to compete on an elite level, finishing in the top three of most races. Pikus-Pace retired following the 2010 Olympics, and spent the first half of the 2012-2013 season regaining qualification for the World Cup tour. Once she earned her spot back on the team, Pikus-Pace claimed five World Cup medals, including two victories, and finished second at the 2013 World Championships in St. Moritz. Pikus-Pace will also enter the Olympic competition as the defending champion on the Sochi track, as she won the 2013 race to give Team USA a major boost. It will be important for Pikus-Pace to carry the momentum into the next season, where she has the chance to win it all at Sochi.
In 2010 Anja Huber won the bronze medal at the Olympics in Vancouver. In 2014 she will be the only member of the group of favorites with the experience of winning an Olympic medal. Huber was a part of the German duo atop the overall World Cup rankings in 2013 and she certainly knows how to win. Her combination of experience and success makes her a favorite at Sochi, where she raced to a third place in 2013. Huber will look to add to her Olympic medal collection and has a great chance to do so next winter.
Two athletes from Great Britain and two Canadian competitors are also in the mix for an Olympic medal. British star Elizabeth Yarnold has bolted to the top of the rankings quickly, and finished on the heels of Uhlaender in overall rankings. Her teammate, Shelley Rudman, has had inconsistent results over the last quad, but the 2006 Olympic silver medalist is always a threat for the podium. Canadian Sarah Reid and made a large statement by winning the first World Cup of the 2012-2013 season, and followed up the performance with two additional medal performances. Teammate Mellisa Hollingsworth claimed the 2006 Olympic bronze medal and boasts five World Championship medal finishes on her sliding resume. Neither athlete can be counted out in 2014.
Skeleton is never predictable and at the Olympics Elena Nikitina could be the one providing a surprise. Even though she has never been in the overall top 10 of the World Cup, Nikitina is the defending European Champion and placed fifth at Sochi 2013. Nikitina will be 21 during the Olympics and is a huge talent for the Russian team. With her lack of experience it will be interesting to see how she performs during the biggest race of her young career, but her recent success makes her a valid candidate for a top finish at Sochi. Olga Potylitsina will also be a hometown favorite, although her best finish last season was only sixth in LaPlagne and Sochi.
The athlete that takes gold in 2014 will have to piece together two flawless runs in order to rise above a brutally aggressive field of women.