KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Katie Uhlaender's eyes were bloodshot, as red as her shock of dyed hair. She was numb, barely able to speak or grasp what had just happened.
It felt like her Olympic bronze medal in skeleton had been stolen away.
Gone, in an instant.
"Right now," she said. "I'm just really heartbroken."
Despite a fantastic final run that temporarily vaulted her into third place, Uhlaender finished fourth, losing the bronze to Russia's Elena Nikitina by four-hundreths of a second.
"My dreams came true and then I realized I was four-hundreths away," she said. "That about sums it up."
Still stunned nearly 20 minutes after the race ended with Britain's Lizzy Yarnold winning gold and Noelle Pikus-Pace winning silver after her own heartbreak four years ago, Uhlaender fought back tears and searched for the right words to explain the depths of her disappointment.
It was tough.
She had arrived in Russia in a far better place than she was in 2010, when Uhlaender competed in Vancouver with a heavy heart following her father's death. Back then, she was an emotional wreck, unfocused and on a dangerous personal path. She was comforted by former U.S. skiing champion Picabo Street, who served as a mentor and role medal.
All week, Uhlaender talked about completing her journey, doing her best and maybe even winning.
She went into the fourth run in fifth place, but after tearing down the Sanki Sliding Center track in 58.35 seconds, she was suddenly in place for a medal.
Her time stood up as Russia's Olga Potylitsina failed to pass her, and she stood nervously near the finish line as Nikitina took the track. Uhlaender watched Nikitina's run on the giant TV monitor and was almost sure she'd win a medal as the Russian banged off the icy walls.
But when Nikitina's time of 58.53 was posted, Uhlaender threw back her head in disbelief.
Later, Pikus-Pace, who had missed bronze by 0.10 in Vancouver, was unaware of how close her teammate had come to joining her on the podium.
"Noooooo," Pikus-Pace screamed, covering her mouth with gloved hands. "Oh, no. Wow, she laid it down didn't she? I have to go find her and give her a hug."
Uhlaender needed one.
She had overcome injuries, eight surgeries, her father's death and a concussion sustained earlier this season in a training run in Lake Placid.
And now, this.
Uhlaender felt like "the baby who had the candy ripped out of its hands," she said. "Elana's run was so bad. I thought I had her and I don't even know where that four-hundreths came from. I'm just blown away, but I'm just grateful for the support I had going into it, it just makes me just so much more sad that I couldn't come home with a medal for my country."
She'll go back home without a medal, but proud of her effort. She wants to compete in the Olympics again, this time in the summer games on the U.S. weightlifting team.
"I chased my dreams and I may not come home with a medal, but this is the Olympics race and I put everything I had into it," she said. "I did everything I could."