Noelle Pikus-Pace has one of those quintessential Olympic stories.
She would have been a huge favorite for a gold medal in skeleton — the headfirst sliding sport — in 2006, then missed the Turin Olympics that year because a bobsled ran her over and shattered her leg. She missed a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics by one-tenth of a second and retired, insisting she was content.
Now she can see the final finish line. The end of her racing story, the last time she'll ever jump on her sled and throw herself headfirst down a mountainside chute at 85 mph competitively. Another retirement beckons after the Sochi Games.
"Yes, I'm going for a medal," Pikus-Pace said. "I've never said that before."
The one-tenth of a second that kept her off the medal podium four years ago? Pikus-Pace insists it has not kept her awake at night. Instead, she's the sort who not just says, but truly believes, that everything happens for a reason. And if she won bronze in 2010, she probably wouldn't be and racing for gold in 2014.
She's one of two clear favorites in the women's race. Pikus-Pace and Britain's Lizzy Yarnold have taken turns atop the winners' stand all season. Their rivalry has been a polite one; quick hugs get exchanged after races and compliments get offered in interviews. But there's also some animosity, because the British were among those who complained about how much tape Pikus-Pace used on one of her handles in the season-opening race in Calgary. Pikus-Pace finished first that night, then got disqualified and Yarnold was promoted to first.
"It's never going to be about her or anybody else except for me and what I can do on my sled, one curve at a time," Pikus-Pace said. "If I get distracted by other people or what's going on outside of one curve at a time, that's when I lose my focus and the results don't come."
There's also two big favorites in the men's skeleton race, and they're from one family. Tomass Dukurs of Latvia might be the second-best slider in the world. He's also second-best in his own family, given that brother Martins Dukurs has been the dominant slider in the last four years and now gets a chance to solidify his resume with Olympic gold.