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‘Superman’ the man to beat in skeleton worlds

February 23, 2012
By JOHN KEKIS - AP Sports Writer

LAKE PLACID - Latvia's Martins Dukurs is ready to defend his title at the Skeleton World Championships.

What else would you expect from someone known as "Superman?"

"(Dukurs) is unbelievable," American Matt Antoine said. "It's not any wonder why he's winning when you watch him slide. He's got everything going for him right now. It's going to be tough facing him this week.

"But I'm looking forward to the challenge."

The worlds are back at Mount Van Hoevenberg for the second time in three years, and while Antoine, of Prairie du Chien, Wis., and John Daly are American headliners, Dukurs, clearly, is the man to beat. He has dominated for two seasons, winning seven of eight races in 2011-12 for his second straight World Cup title.

Only Frank Rommel of Germany was able to break the dominance of Dukurs, winning at Konigssee. So, in addition to Dukurs, Rommel has to be confident, as well, having won a World Cup race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in December 2009.

Rommel had the fastest time in Group 2 training on Tuesday, with Alexander Gassner of Germany the only other slider to finish the 20-curve layout in under 55 seconds. Daly paced the first training heat in Group 1 with a time of 54.85, while Antoine topped the charts on the second run at 54.77, just ahead of Daly, whose second run was identical with his first.

Dukurs had runs of 55.57 and 55.12.

"I'm feeling good," Daly said. "I honestly think that me and Matt can both be on the podium. It's not going to be easy, but if we concentrate, put it down, don't get shook by other times, I honestly think you could see USA with two people with medals."

Daly's World Cup season started with a disqualification at Igls, Austria, for not wearing his race bib. He was in the running for the podium with his time and it's been uphill since.

"I started off that first race feeling so good, and I get to the top, and they told me that the good run I threw down was (disqualified)," said Daly, of Smithtown, N.Y. "After that, I've been kind of chopping back. I'm trying to be, I guess, like the New York Giants. It's a do-or-die situation."

Katie Uhlaender and Annie O'Shea will slide for the U.S. in women's skeleton, which got under way this morning. Despite finishing seventh and 10th, respectively, in the World Cup, well behind overall winner Shelley Rudman of Britain, the American tandem is pumped to be back on home ice.

O'Shea, of Port Jefferson Station, had a breakthrough season, earning her first World Cup medal, a silver at La Plagne, France in December. She also owns the track record here, set en route to claiming the 2011 national championship a year ago. She finished the season with consecutive seventh-place finishes at Whistler and Calgary.

"It made me realize that I can do the same thing that all of these other girls can do," O'Shea said. "I can be right up there with them. My start is there, and I know that I can slide well, too."

German star Marion Thees, who finished second to Rudman in the World Cup, is seeking a three-peat at worlds and promises to be a strong contender despite no wins and only one podium finish during the season. She won worlds here three years ago, besting Amy Williams of Canada by more than a half-second.

Both O'Shea and Uhlaender had faster times in training Tuesday than Rudman, Thees, and Williams, the Olympic champion. And the U.S. team is stoked after watching their teammates soar in the opening three days of competition in bobsled.

Steven Holcomb won the two-man on Sunday, the first-ever gold medal in the event for the United States at worlds. Less than two hours later, he also anchored the Americans to victory in the team race. Elana Meyers, in only her second year as a driver, captured bronze in women's bobsled.

"The USA started off really strong here the first weekend," Antoine said. "It's exciting to see the success we've had so far. I plan on making it continue."

The Canadians are on the same wavelength after Kaillie Humphries took gold in women's bobsled, and Lyndon Rush captured silver behind Holcomb after leading the first day.

"The morale, that helps a ton - Kaillie winning gold and Lyndon winning silver," said Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth, who was fast in practice and also promises to be a factor with two wins and two bronze medals during the World Cup season. "That's great. Canada is very competitive on this track. It comes down to race day.

"Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes is going to be on the podium."

 
 

 

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