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Noelle Pikus-Pace wins US silver in skeleton

Silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace was all smiles in Sochi. ULIONEL BONAVENTURELIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

Silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace was all smiles.

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Noelle Pikus-Pace’s first Olympics ended in tears. So did her final Olympics.

The similarities end there.

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Calling it a perfect ending, Pikus-Pace capped her skeleton career with a silver medal at the Sochi Games Friday, a result that will let her go into retirement feeling completely fulfilled. The margin between her and gold medalist Lizzy Yarnold of Britain over the four-run competition at the Sanki Sliding Center was nearly a full second, leaving a margin that left no doubt who deserved the title.

And when it was over, Pikus-Pace couldn’t stop crying, though that had nothing to do with the result.

‘‘Good as gold,’’ she said.

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So ends a quintessential Olympic story. Her leg was shattered by a bobsled in 2005, costing her what would have been a huge chance for gold at the 2006 Turin Games. A mistake cost her a bronze in 2010 at Vancouver — in what she thought would be her last race — causing heartbreak and sending her into long sobbing fits.

For years, she tried telling just about everyone close to her that she was fine. For years, they knew otherwise. And when she returned two years later, those in her camp knew it was for a medal.

‘‘Was it worth it? Oh, yeah,’’ her husband, Janson Pace, said. ‘‘Worth every second.’’

He was the one who talked her into returning two years ago, after she miscarried what would have been the family’s third child. She resisted, saying she didn’t want to leave her family. A compromise was struck; the family would go on tour together, and find a way to make it happen. Sponsorships helped, other donations helped, and somehow it all worked out.

Yarnold, who also won the World Cup overall title this season, claimed Britain’s first gold at the Sochi Games. Her time was 3 minutes, 52.89 seconds, and the final trip down the track was a mere formality, given that she already had a 0.78-second edge over Pikus-Pace and only needed to avoid a giant mistake.

It didn’t happen. The fourth run was like all the others — flawless. Yarnold’s four-run time was 0.97 seconds faster than Pikus-Pace.

Elena Nikitina of Russia won the bronze, 0.44 seconds off the pace and just 0.04 seconds ahead of American Katie Uhlaender, who took fourth for her top Olympic finish.

Uhlaender wasn’t lamenting coming so close. Instead, she picked up Pikus-Pace’s daughter Lacee, gave her an embrace and sang her teammate’s praises.

‘‘I couldn’t be more proud of her,’’ Uhlaender said. ‘‘This is a great last race for us both. Noelle finished fourth last time and now she’s on the podium and I couldn’t be happier for her.’’

Pikus-Pace hurt her back not long after delivering the couple’s second child, and those disks remain problematic today. But at the Sochi Olympics, a new issue presented itself — concussion-like symptoms that kept her from doing anything besides the minimal two official training runs needed to be eligible to slide in the competition.

She had vision problems, which isn’t optimal in a sport where sliders top 80 miles per hour. with their heads just inches from the ice surfaceShe talked about having a bit of vertigo in the news conference Friday. She was so tired during competition Thursday she actually fell asleep between Runs 1 and 2. , waking up when a volunteer told her she was due on the ice in a few minutes

And despite it all, she finished second.

‘‘Every race, I write down three goals for myself and my No. 1 goal was: ‘This is it. Don’t get scared now,’’’ she said, laughing. ‘‘I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it and I did.

“Between runs I gave my coach Tuffy Latour a big hug and said, ‘This is it, this is what we’ve come all this way to do, to be here in this Olympic moment.’ And we did it and when I came down and I crossed that finish line, we truly did do it.’’

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