Stories don’t come as big as they do in the case of United States slider Noelle Pikus-Pace.
Pikus-Pace was not even supposed to be competing in the skeleton at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Having been injured at the 2010 games in Vancouver, she had retired from the sport to concentrate on being a mother. Yet, it was her husband and children who urged her to come out of retirement for the games.
Standing in her way however, was British slider Lizzy Yarnold. Yarnold and Pikus-Pace created somewhat of a rivalry at the World Cup competition, having duked it out right to the finish. Sochi was to decide how this soap opera would play out since it was clearly to be Pikus-Pace’s final competition. As drama built through the three qualifying runs, it came down to the final heat.
As Russian slider Elena Nikitina overtook American Katie Uhlaender to secure a bronze, it came down to the final two leading sliders — who just happened to be Yarnold and Pikus-Pace.
Despite turning in an absolutely flawless 58.28 second run, Pikus-Pace finished 0.19 seconds behind Yarnold to take the silver. While the rivalry ended with Yarnold taking the gold, it was the story of Pikus-Pace that made the day. As she celebrated, she climbed into the stands to kiss her husband. Scenes like this that are what the Olympics are all about.
All things being considered, there was not much Pikus-Pace could do about Yarnold. In the penultimate third heat, Yarnold turned in a track record time of 57.91. For Pikus-Pace to head into the final heat at +0.78 is huge. Merely keeping her place would be a fight. Simply put, even a perfect run could not have take the gold. Yarnold is just that good.
Both sliders’ final runs were things of beauty. Both of them were able to yank their sled into turns that seemed impossible. Pikus-Pace held one of the most aggressive lines of the day’s competition, almost daring Yarnold to follow her path. Many of her sharper turns were dangerously close to out of control, yet it was nothing but pure experience that kept her on the track.
Pikus-Pace’s celebration was a perfect end to her rivalry with Yarnold, as both women hugged on the podium and celebrated their victory. Yarnold absolutely earned the gold medal, while Pikus-Pace gave us the story we all wanted to hear. The only problem was knowing there would not be another chapter to the rivalry.