LAKE PLACID - Skeleton athletes Matt Antoine and Savannah Graybill maintained their overnight leads with record-breaking times to claim U.S. National Championship titles in their respective divisions Friday at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
"It was another great event for USA Skeleton," said U.S. Skeleton head coach Tuffy Latour. "We had Olympians racing with our top development athletes, so it was a great mix of experienced athletes and rookies battling it out. Both Matt and Savannah set track records, and the Olympic Regional Development Authority crew did a great job preparing the track. Overall as a coaching staff we couldn't be happier with ending a great season on a high note."
Antoine, a Prairie du Chien, Wis. native, was dominant from start to finish in Friday's final heats. The veteran posted the fastest starts (4.96 and 4.97 seconds) and once again clocked a record-breaking time at the finish.
Olympic bronze medalist Matt Antoine pushes off at the start of his run Friday in the U.S. National Championships at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid.
(Photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)
Antoine was close to breaking the record in the first heat with a 53.44, and dropped his time to 53.39 seconds in the final run to conclude his season with not just the national title, but with the fastest time ever clocked on the Lake Placid course.
"Everyday on the track it's a competition with myself," Antoine said. "It's always about pushing myself out of my comfort zone to see where I can improve. I asked that of my coaches this year and truly believe it's what helped me make such big steps over the season. Nationals was really a way to see how all of that work translated back to a track I know well."
Antoine extended his lead over the field to 3.38 seconds with a four-run combined time of 3:33.68. After a long and successful season that included three World Cup medals and the 2014 Olympic bronze medal, Antoine is looking forward to heading home.
"Now that my season is officially over, I'm looking forward to some down time," Antoine said. "It will be fun to head home and I know my hometown has a big reception set up that I'm very much looking forward to."
The Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce and City of Pairie du Chien are hosting an open house honoring Antoine on Friday, March 14 to welcome home their Olympic medalist. Although Antoine is eager to relax with family and friends, he's already planning for the four-year lead up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
"Over the next four years I've already got my sights set on new goals," Antoine said. "A World Cup overall title, while not always the most appreciated accomplishment, is the definition of an athlete's ability. It shows consistency and competence over a wide variety of tracks and situations. That is something I want to strive for over the next quad. The bigger picture will be having my sights on 2018, however that is long way out. Keeping focused on the process though is really what will allow me to continue to improve."
Development team standout Mike Rogals of Orwell, Vt., earned the men's silver medal with a total time of 3:37.06. Olympian Kyle Tress of Ewing, N.J., clocked a cumulative time of 3:37.36 for bronze.
"Seeing the new faces, and more to come after these Olympics, is always nice," Antoine said. "There were some athletes that really impressed me this week. It will be exciting to see how this team grows over the next four years."
Graybill established a convincing lead of 4.03 seconds over the women's field to secure her first career title. The Denver, Pa. native left little doubt she would claim the title with her overnight lead of 1.57 seconds, but she laid down a blistering track-record time of 55.22 seconds in the first run to erase any question on whether or not the title would be hers.
"It feels great to win National Championships and this is definitely a high note to cap off the end of my season," Graybill said. "It will serve as great motivation for my summer training, though I'm definitely looking forward to a little time off."
National team member Annie O'Shea set the former record of 55.38 seconds in 2011. Although the international federation will not recognize the record-breaking times set by Antoine and Graybill since it was not during an international competition, coach Latour is impressed with the growth his athletes have shown throughout the season.
"It's incredible," Latour said. "I think this is a notice to the world that we aren't slowing down anytime soon."
Graybill claimed her first title with a combined time of 3:42.74. Morgan Tracey (Champion, Ohio) held a slim lead over Samantha Culiver (Scottsdale, Ariz.) after the first two heats, but Culiver pulled ahead Friday to claim silver with a four-run combined time of 3:46.77. Sherri Emery (New Gloucester, Maine) posted the second fastest times of the final heats to move up into third with a total time of 3:47.54, and Tracey finished fourth, just 0.04 seconds from the medals, with a combined time of 3:47.58.
"It was exciting watching everyone race and set new personal bests today," Graybill said. "Everyone was very supportive and we had beautiful weather for our final races of the season. A big thanks goes out to the coaching staff for their help and motivation this week. Many of us made huge gains this week thanks to their help and guidance."
The 2014 U.S. National Skeleton Championships officially concluded the 2013-2014 season.