Katie Uhlaender leads in skeleton

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Katie Uhlaender sat in the finish house at Mount Van Hoevenberg, snow swirling all around outside, and exhaled, a smile creasing her face after another challenge met.

After two runs -- halfway through the women's race at the skeleton world championships -- Uhlaender held the lead.

"I'm pretty happy with where I'm at," said Uhlaender, of Breckenridge, Colo. "This is a blessing for me because the doctors didn't know if I'd make it back. To be competing at this level, I've really been so blessed."

The final two runs are Friday.

Two shattered kneecaps, six months on crutches, eight surgeries. No problem for the two-time Olympian, who's trying to join an elite group of athletes. After this competition ends Friday morning, she'll have a week to get ready for Olympic trials in weightlifting in Columbus, Ohio.

Uhlaender finished third last summer in the women's 63-kilogram division at the USA Weightlifting national championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She remains optimistic she can make the U.S. team for the London Olympics, which start in late July.

"I've been working really hard on London and world championships," Uhlaender said. "It's been a mentally challenging season balancing both and trying to keep the big picture in mind. My coaches told me all season to stay present, stay in the moment and know where I'm supposed to be. That's what I was thinking the whole way down."

Uhlaender's skeleton career took a hit when she crashed her snowmobile after the 2008-09 season, leaving her with a shattered left kneecap. All that came while she was still struggling with the death of her father, former major leaguer Ted Uhlaender.

Though her dad probably will never be far from her mind, Uhlaender was back in top form again Thursday. She finished her two runs over the tricky 19-curve layout in 1 minute, 51.03 seconds and led Mellisa Hollingsworth of Canada by 0.18 seconds.

World Cup champion Shelley Rudman of Britain was third, 0.45 behind, followed by teammate Elizabeth Yarnold. Marion Thees of Germany, seeking her third straight title at worlds, was fifth and Olympic champion Amy Williams of Britain was sixth.

After putting down a solid first run of 55.54 seconds, Uhlaender demonstrated the consistency that's needed in a four-heat race, finishing the second heat in 55.49 seconds, the second-best time of the day and only 0.11 seconds off the track record held by teammate Annie O'Shea.

Rudman, who held the top spot after an opening run of 55.48, faded to 56.00, while Hollingsworth had a second-run time of 55.57.

The first two heats of the men's skeleton race are Friday night, and the four-man bobsled is on the weekend.