WHISTLER, British Columbia – Side by side, just as they planned it.
Four years after their Olympic dreams were destroyed, Zach Lund’s by his own hand and Noelle Pikus-Pace’s by someone else’s, the U.S. skeleton racers and best friends on the World Cup tour, strolled into the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games. Together.
“We kept reminding each other, ‘We’re here!’ ” Zach Lund recalled. “We were like slapping each other, ‘Are we awake?’ ”
They entered BC Place Stadium skipping like school kids. When Canadian music star Sarah McLachlan sang “Ordinary Miracle,” Pikus-Pace cried. Lund stayed composed, barely.
“Zach can keep his emotions held in a little more,” Pikus-Pace said following a practice run on Blackcomb Mountain. “I just seem to let it out.”
She has every right to.
In 2005, Pikus-Pace was sliding as well as ever and was primed to win a medal, maybe even gold, months down the road at the Turin Games. Then an accident changed everything. She was standing past the finish line at a track in Calgary when she was hit by a speeding bobsled piloted by an inexperienced driver.
The gruesome collision sent her flying and shattered her right leg. Despite surgery, a frantic rehabilitation and valiant attempt to come back, she just missed making the U.S. team. But because her family had already bought plane tickets and rented a house in Italy, she went to the games anyway.
However, once she arrived, the emotional pain was too much. She was unable to go to the competition and even watching on TV proved impossible through her tears.
Lund was an Olympian in 2006. Almost.
Only a few hours before the Turin opening ceremony, the gold-medal favorite was banned after a masking agent for steroids was found in his system. He had been taking an anti-balding medication, and although he’d been open about using it, he was unaware it was on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. He was thrown out of the Olympics.
He had to leave the athlete’s village. His credential was cut up and he went home labeled a cheat, a charge more embarrassing than his impending baldness.
But he rebounded, winning the World Cup title a year later and setting the track record in Cesana, Italy. Now, he’s at his first official Olympics and having the time of his life. In a cruel twist, the incriminating substance in Turin – finsasteride – has since been proved in studies not to be a masking agent.
Lund doesn’t care. There’s nothing he can do about it.
“I’ve really learned to just let go,” he said. “I’ve accepted what happened to me.”
On Monday, Lund posted the second-fastest practice time in one run.
“If I do my thing, good things are going to happen.”
They could for Pikus-Pace, too. In fact, they already have. Since her grisly accident she became a mom. Her daughter, Lacee, fills her world now and Pikus-Pace is looking forward to being a full-time, stay-at-home mom.
After her last heat on Friday, Pikus-Pace will hang up her sled. The Olympics have completed her.
“It’s a sweet reward,” she said. “Looking back now, everything it took to get here, it’s worth it.”