Uhlaender headed to the Olympics | SummitDaily.com

Uhlaender headed to the Olympics

Devon O'Neilsummit daily news

AP File Photo Breckenridge native Katie Uhlaender slides through the Shady II curve during her first run at the women's World Cup Skeleton competition, Friday, Nov. 18, at the Verizon Sports Complex Bobsled track in Lake Placid, N.Y. Uhlaender took the bronze medal in the event, which helped her qualify for the Olympic skeleton event in February 2006.

CALGARY, Alberta – Breckenridge’s Katie Uhlaender, the best female skeleton racer in America right now, is officially headed to the Olympics. Uhlaender, 21, who ranks third in the world thanks to a pair of third-place finishes on the World Cup circuit earlier this season, is the lone American woman to have qualified for the squad. Her Olympic berth won’t be announced by the U.S. Olympic Committee until Jan. 14, at a World Cup race in Germany, but she has met the U.S. qualifying criteria and is on her way to Turin, Italy, both she and her coach confirmed Tuesday.”I was pretty stoked,” she said by phone from Calgary, Alberta, recalling her thoughts when she first learned she was an Olympian. “I was really excited – I’m still really excited. I’m sort of in disbelief.”I only started this sport three years ago – just this week, actually – so to be going to the Olympics this soon is crazy. Not something I expected getting into this sport. I just got into it for fun.”

Suddenly, however, Uhlaender looks more like a potential medalist than anything else. The three-time national champion is expecting just that, in fact.”I think I have a really good shot to medal,” she said. “I know I’m one of the best in the world; I just have to get my head straight and do what I know how to do.”Uhlaender’s Olympic berth follows those of fellow Summit County athletes Matt Dayton and Jake Fiala, a pair of skiers who competed in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Dayton helped the U.S. Nordic combined team to an all-time best fourth-place finish, while Fiala took 19th in combined and 27th in downhill for the American alpine squad.Uhlaender took up skeleton – a thrill seekers’ sport in which racers schuss down a luge course headfirst on metal sleds – in 2002, at the behest of Frisco resident and elite-level bobsledder Sara Sprung. She befriended Sprung after bumping into her in a local gym.

Since then, Uhlaender has used hard work and a never-waning interest to skyrocket up the rankings. Oh, and her unmatched yearn to win helps, too.”That’s the way Katie is,” U.S. skeleton head coach Tim Nardiello said in a phone interview Tuesday. If you know Katie, she’s a very intense competitor. She’s analyzing every curve, every minute of the day. She takes up a lot of my time.”Smiling through the receiver, the coach added: “And that’s a good thing.”Because skeleton is a small-money, grassroots event – the first women’s Olympic competition was held in 2002 – Uhlaender is still in need of funding to help reach her competition goals. Anyone interested in contributing can contact CJ Mueller of the Breckenridge Elite Athletes Foundation, at (970) 453-2891.

In the meantime, Uhlaender has three more World Cup events to think about – two in Germany and one in Switzerland – before the Olympics. Her success in the World Cup events will prove critical to whether the U.S. gets another women’s slot for the Turin competition (three American men will compete). The American ladies must rank in the top three of the world standings to earn a second starting spot. Veteran Noelle Pikus-Pace and newcomer Courtney Yamada are the front-runners to win the spot, should the U.S. earn it.None of that will change Uhlaender’s trip to Italy, however.”At this point everything is basically getting ready for the Games,” she said. “Everything I do is aimed at getting my body ready to peak for the Olympics.”Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.