KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — One woman stood between Katie Uhlaender and an Olympic medal in skeleton.
Russian slider Elena Nikitina was that woman. She faltered, hitting the wall hard and skidding into the straight-away, making it seem that Uhlaender had a spot on the podium.
But as Nikitina’s sled crossed the finish line, the scoreboard flashed green.
Four-hundredths of a second. She had barely beaten Uhlaender for a bronze medal.
“I thought for sure I had it, so I was on cloud 9, and then it was just ripped away,” said Uhlaender, of Breckenridge. “Four-hundredths.”
She was still trying to process it, but was in tears by the time she reached reporters.
“Four-hundredths,” she kept saying, as if trying to understand.
Her teammate, Noelle Pikus-Pace, won silver, climbing into the spectator stand to hug her family, including her husband and two kids.
She had retired from the sport after a fourth-place finish in Vancouver in 2010, but following a miscarriage in 2012, she and her family decided to try one more time to win an Olympic medal.
They scraped together money to allow the whole family to travel to World Cup events around the globe.
“It’s just all come together into this moment,” Pikus-Pace said. “This is better than gold for me. This whole moment is just … I’m trying to take it in and I can’t. I can’t comprehend this moment.”
Uhlaender couldn’t, either.
“This was the first time I put everything out there,” said Uhlaender, who reached top speed of 79.8 mph — the fastest of the day — on her final run. “I felt like my runs were solid and it wasn’t enough. That hurts. I’ve never really experienced that before, but that’s the mystery of the sport sometimes. I’m speechless.”
Uhlaender, 29, has spoken widely about her struggles to cope with and move forward after the death of her father, former Major League Baseball outfielder Ted Uhlaender, who was a huge support in her life and athletic career. She carries her dad’s 1972 National League Championship ring on a necklace.
“I handed (U.S. skeleton coach) Tuffy (Latour) my dad’s ring and held it for a second just to say, ‘This is for you but I’m doing it on my own,’” Uhlaender said.
Uhlaender is a graduate of Summit High School and was born in Vail. She now lives on her late father’s cattle ranch in Kansas when she’s not training or competing.
Elizabeth Yarnold defended the gold for Great Britain, which also won in 2010 with Amy Williams.
It took Yarnold 3 minutes, 52.89 seconds to negotiate Sanki Sliding Center’s track — 2,013 meters long with 17 curves — a total of four times. Each of her four runs — two Thursday and two Friday — were the fastest in the field.