Katie Uhlaender hugged her two brothers, tears streaming down her cheeks in a driving rain.
Uhlaender didn't win the gold medal she had dreamed of at the skeleton world championships on Friday _ Germany's Marion Trott was simply unbeatable _ but America's top female slider experienced a personal triumph all the same.
"I don't think relief is the right word because now I have to deal with the huge loss I have," said Uhlaender, whose father died two weeks ago. "The season was probably one of the hardest seasons I've had to deal with, and this race was the first reality that my father's gone because he never would have missed this race."
Ted Uhlaender was Katie's biggest fan, and she said coping with his sudden absence was the most difficult challenge of her life.
"My dad would have been so proud of her," said Uhlaender's brother Will, who was at his father's side when he died of a sudden heart attack on the family farm in Kansas after a yearlong struggle against bone marrow cancer.
Will Uhlaender said the loss had been especially difficult because the doctors had just told the family that things were looking good for his father. So it probably came as no surprise that Katie lost a chance at a podium finish on her first run of the four-heat competition. The 20-curve Mount Van Hoevenberg track where she had never failed to medal proved too difficult to master on Thursday.
"I screwed up the first heat yesterday because I looked up," said Uhlaender, whose time was only 13th-fastest. "I felt like he was going to show up and I looked up and he wasn't there and then I broke down and let it out."
That mental block finally broken, Uhlaender rallied over the final three heats and was in position to finish fourth before faltering in the final two curves of her last run. She ended up seventh, 1.35 seconds behind Trott and one spot ahead of teammate Noelle Pikus-Pace.
"I'm still not where I'd like to be, but given the circumstances I think I was able to pull it together the last three runs," Uhlaender said. "Now I'd like to go home to rest and mourn before I do anything. I think I'm just more excited for next season because I know that's what my dad was focused on. I'm going for it for him."
Trott was in a zone after shattering the track record by more than a half-second on the competition's first run. She led teammate and defending world champion Anja Huber by 0.40 seconds entering Friday, and while Huber faded to fourth behind silver medalist Amy Williams of Great Britain and bronze medalist Kerstin Szymkowiak of Germany, Trott maintained her torrid pace.
She was again fastest overall on the third run and then, under deteriorating conditions _ the temperature was approaching 50 degrees and the rain was being driven by a 35-mph wind _ was just 12th-best on the final run. Her elapsed time for the competition was 3 minutes, 47.97 seconds, 0.59 seconds ahead of Williams.
Two weeks after winning her first World Cup title in Park City, Utah, the 24-year-old Trott had another gold medal dangling from her neck, this time at the U.S. team's home track.
"It's unbelievable," Trott said. "I think next week maybe I'll know what I've accomplished."
Uhlaender walked away from the finish line in tears the first day. When she departed Friday, she somehow managed a smile and left admirers at every turn in her wake.
"I've never seen an athlete as mentally tough as Katie," said Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. "Dealing with what she had to deal with, she was in limbo and she's a girl who likes things cut and dried, black and white. She doesn't like not knowing what the future is going to have. She's dealt with it as best she could.
"This was the biggest challenge, obviously," Steele said. "We weren't really sure. I think things started off a little rocky yesterday because she really wanted to bring home a world championship in her father's honor. But I'm sure he'd be proud of the way she competed. She gave it her all."
In the men's race, which started later Friday, the second heat was canceled because the warm weather affected track conditions.
The jury made the decision after Adam Pengilly of Great Britain, 15th after the first run and trailing leader Gregor Staehli of Switzerland by three-quarters of a second, had risen to the top the leaderboard.
Pengilly, the sixth slider on the second run, made up more than a second on the top three _ Staehli, Jon Montgomery of Canada, and Alexander Tretiakov of Russia _ who went later and had worse conditions.
Not everybody agreed with the decision.
"You really needed a snorkel today," Canada's Jeff Pain said. "But we do an outdoor sport. If you want fair and consistent conditions, you can do curling."
The third and fourth runs will be held Saturday.
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