LAKE PLACID - Gracie Clapp-Taylor and Tom Santagato claimed U.S. National Skeleton Push Championships titles on Saturday as the competitive skeleton season kicked off at the Olympic Training Center.
Clapp-Taylor, a student at Florida International in Miami, Fla., first learned about the sport of skeleton while watching the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Bobsled pilot Elana Meyers, who was seeking new recruits to try the sliding sports, contacted Clapp-Taylor's track coach while promoting a combine event in Orlando, Fla. Clapp-Taylor took interest, and made a natural transition to the ice.
"Today was surreal for me," Clapp-Taylor said. "I knew the competition would be tough this year because of the impressive depth of field, but I also knew that I had trained very hard this offseason. I think as a group we are really coming into our own as skeleton athletes and making strong developments leading into the years to come. It's exciting to be a part of a program filled with such athleticism. It feels great to see hard work pay off."
John Daly pushes his sled during Saturday’s U.S. National Skeleton Push Championships at the newly constructed wheeled start track at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
(Photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)
Clapp-Taylor claimed her first national push title by just 0.02 seconds with a total time 7.30 seconds. Her first push of 5.66 seconds tied her with defending champion Veronica Day, but Clapp-Taylor solidified her win with a second time of 3.64 seconds.
Day finished second with a combined total of 7.32 seconds, while Meghan Sullivan finished third with a two-run time of 7.43 seconds.
The athlete with the lowest combined time after two heats in both the women's and men's divisions were named 2013 push champion. Twenty-seven athletes from around the nation battled for the coveted title.
"This was the first official push competition for our team on the new push track in Lake Placid," said U.S. head skeleton coach Tuffy Latour. "The U.S. Olympic Committee has made this a fantastic facility and we are very appreciative. It's great to see new faces in the top three."
Santagato and John Daly of Smithtown both pushed a first run time of 3.31 seconds in the first heat of the men's competition. Daly made a valiant effort to defend his title with a second push time of 3.28 seconds, but Santagato responded with a 3.27 to claim the title by a mere one-hundredth of a second.
"Today's race was incredibly close," Santagato said. "After seeing that Daly and myself were tied after the first heat, I knew it was going to take a big effort if I wanted to come out on top. I've trained with tremendous athletes all summer long and I can honestly say that just being around someone as accomplished as Daly is incredibly motivational. He forces me to push myself to the limit, and today was no different."
Jake Miter finished third with a two-run effort of 6.65 seconds after posting runs of 3.33 and 3.32 seconds.
"I'm really proud of the way Jake stepped up today," Santagato said. "It probably came as a shock to everyone except him, but he showed that the U.S. team is going to be a force for years to come."
The combined bobsled, skeleton and luge track in Lake Placid is scheduled to open for on ice training Oct. 1. Athletes will begin preparing for the Olympic season by competing in a series of team selection races in both Lake Placid and Park City, Utah next month before the national team is named.