LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Noelle Pikus-Pace tugged on her hat, waved to a few fans and posed for a photo with one of her closest friends before walking off the finish deck at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
And although it wasn't the shade she wanted, her last race on U.S. soil was a medalwinner. Pikus-Pace finished third in a World Cup skeleton race Sunday morning in Lake Placid, the final time she will race in the U.S. before her retirement becomes official after the Sochi Olympics. Elizabeth Yarnold of Britain won the race in 56.27 seconds, Austria's Janine Flock was second in 56.61 seconds and Pikus-Pace's time was 56.72 seconds.
"I have spent years here so this is really a home away from home for me," Pikus-Pace said. "It's really hard to say good-bye. Maybe I'll come back and visit one day, but I have a lot of memories here, a lot of good memories, a lot of good times and this is really where I started figuring out how to slide. It's more than the track and it's more than the mountains. It's really a home away from home."
The race was delayed by about 90 minutes at the start and shortened to one run because of track conditions. Several inches of snow fell overnight and continued into Sunday morning, but the issue that held up the start of Sunday's racing was the condition of a groove near the start of the track. Once that was repaired, athletes were quickly summoned into action.
No one was faster than Yarnold, who extended her lead in the World Cup points chase to 164 points over countrywoman Shelley Rudman. "Can't be bad, four podium finishes," said Yarnold, who has two wins, one second and one third so far this season, though one of the wins came when Pikus-Pace was disqualified from the season-opener at Calgary, Alberta after British officials disputed the way tape was applied to her sled handle.
Flock won her first World Cup medal. "For Austria, it's very good," Flock said. Katie Uhlaender of the U.S. continued her road back from an early season concussion, finishing in a tie for ninth, the best placing for her yet this season. Uhlaender's time was 57.18 seconds.
Pikus-Pace said the realization about the significance of Sunday finally starting setting in as she and her husband drove to the track a couple hours before the race. Until this season, she had never won World Cup races at either Park City — the track closest to her Eagle Mountain, Utah, home — or Lake Placid. She fixed that in the last two weeks, prevailing at both venues.
"From here on out, we're heading into Sochi," Pikus-Pace said. "Every World Cup is a stepping stone." There are four World Cup races left: Winterberg, St. Moritz, Igls and Konigssee. After that, all that will remain on Pikus-Pace's racing calendar is the Sochi Olympics.
She and her family will leave for Germany this week to get acclimated to life in Europe, where they'll remain for about two months. "I love road games," Pikus-Pace said. "It's interesting because I've actually never won a race in Lake Placid or Park City until this year, but from here on out, every single track that we're going to from here on out, I've actually won a gold medal on it. I love these tracks but I'm ready for the second half and see what it brings."