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Thursday, 02/16/2006 2:09:43 PM

Thursday, February 16, 2006 2:09:43 PM

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Swiss slider gets skeleton out of closets
33-year-old Pedersen earns gold with two blazing runs down Cesana track

Maya Pedersen won gold in the skeleton Thursday evening in Turin, Italy.
But, more surprisingly after what fans saw in the luge events, not a single skeleton crashed in either run.

Updated: 2:01 p.m. ET Feb. 16, 2006
CESANA, Italy - Mama Maya, she’s fast!

Switzerland’s Maya Pedersen, who parked her sled to become a mother two years ago, is now an Olympic champion after winning her country’s first gold medal of the Turin Games in women’s skeleton on Thursday.

Showing zero fear in a headfirst, freezing freefall down one of the world’s fastest sliding tracks, Pedersen completed her two runs in 1 minute, 59.83 seconds, an astonishing 1.23 seconds ahead of Shelley Rudman of Britain — the first medal of these games for the Brits.

Canada’s Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards won the bronze.

Katie Uhlaender of the U.S. finished sixth, more than two seconds behind Pedersen. It was not the result Uhlaender, whose father, Ted, was a major league baseball player, was planning on.

And it was yet another disappointment for the U.S. skeleton team, which has had its share of problems leading into the games. The Americans qualified only one woman slider; had a coach fired and saw their top male racer suspended for a year on the eve of the opening ceremonies.

“In my training runs, I threw down solid yesterday,” Uhlaender said. “If I’d done that today, I’d have medaled. My first Olympics, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of energy the crowd had. Man, it was something I would never trade.”

Pedersen, a two-time world champion, finished fifth at the Salt Lake City Games four years ago despite having the fastest time in the second run. She thought about retiring, but the 33-year-old decided to stick around for another shot at gold.

She skipped the 2003-04 World Cup season because she was pregnant, but after giving birth to her daughter, Miriam, she came back to finish second in the world the next year. And in 2005, she won the world championship.

Now, she’s got another baby — a golden one.

Pedersen had a commanding lead of 0.65 seconds after setting a track record on her first run. The second one was nearly as good, and after blasting through the finish line, the Swiss Mrs. — she’s married to a Norwegian skeleton racer — remained face down on her sled, soaking in the moment.

Rudman, who finished second to Pedersen at the European Championships, was fourth after the first run before a blistering second heat put her on the podium.

Uhlaender put herself in too big of a hole to get back into the medal hunt.

With red, white and blue hair extensions sticking out of the back of her black racing helmet, Uhlaender, one of the best starters on the World Cup circuit, looked good on the top part of the track on her first run.

However, she seemed to lose her line as she worked her way down the 19-curve course, which didn’t crash any of the skeleton racers after overturning several luge sleds in the past few days.

At times, Uhlaender’s legs flailed out to the side, causing her to drag her feet too often on the ice to be among the leaders. She finished in 1:00.87, putting her in sixth out of 15 after the first run. She appeared to have many of the same problems on her second descent, which was even slower.

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