KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — USA skeleton's Noelle Pikus-Pace walked off the track in Whistler four years and proclaimed it her final race.
"I was so ready to retire," said Pikus-Pace who missed bronze by one-tenth of a second at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. "I was so burnt out. I had been doing it since I was 15 years old. I was ready to move on to a new chapter."
She wanted to spend more time with her family.
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"I wanted to do PTA, I wanted to soccer with my kids," Pikus-Pace said. "That's the vision I saw. I still have this vision of utopia of baking cookies and making fudge."
But first Pikus-Pace, who is battling back problems, wants a medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She decided on comeback two seasons, discovering, "There's just this fire inside of me," Pikus-Pace said.
After two heats of the women's event, a medal is possible. She is in second place, 44-hundredths of a second behind main rival Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain and has a slim .11 lead on Russia's Elena Nikitina.
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"I felt confident coming into the race," Pikus-Pace said. "Although my first run was pretty sloppy to say the least, I feel happy with the way I was able to come back for that second run. I fixed some big errors I had up top. It gives me some confidence going into (Friday).
"After finishing fourth in Vancouver, I've always said — obviously everybody is going for that gold medal — after missing a bronze by a 10th of a second, I'm pretty sure I would be stoked just to be on the podium (Friday)."
Russia has three sliders in the top six and has cashed in on its home-track advantage. But Australia filed a protest Thursday, claiming Russia is using a push track that is not open to all nations.
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"Russia is here to win," Pikus-Pace said, not knowing a protest had been filed. "They know this track like the back of their hand. They've had many, many runs on this track. We know they're always going to be a threat on their home track."
The International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation rejected the protest. In a statement, the FIBT said, "The push track has not been homologated by the FIBT and therefore is not within the Field of Play and the FIBT jury has no control over the push track."
Yarnold, the 2013-14 World Cup champ who won four races this season, set a track record in 58.43 seconds in her first run and has a two-heat time of 1:56.89.
"The first and second run are the fastest I've ever gone," Yarnold said. "It's as good as it gets really."
Said Pikus-Pace: "It's a pretty big margin to be honest with you. Anything's possible of course."
American Katie Uhlaender is also in medal contention in the fourth place, .14 behind Nikitina.
"I'm having mixed feelings," Uhlaender said. "I was really happy with my first run. In that second run, I had a huge mistake at the bottom, and I think that cost me pulling ahead of Noelle."
Pikus-Pace, who won the World Cup race here last year, skipped the final four of six training runs. It's not unusual for Pikus-Pace to skip training sessions once she feels comfortable on the track, but this time the back pain prevented her taking those finals. She revealed she has three herniated disks and aggravated her back during an unofficial training run.
"My back's good. Just trying to take it a day at a time," Pikus-Pace said.
What did she do for back treatment? "Manipulation, relaxation, rest recovery, chasing kids, changing poopy diapers," said Pikus-Pace, whose husband Janson and two kids, Lacee and Traycen, have been with her in Europe since Christmas.
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