Martins Dukurs wins skeleton gold at worlds

JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer Published:

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) -- Martins Dukurs of Latvia won his second straight gold medal in men's skeleton at the world championships on Saturday night, besting runner-up Frank Rommel of Germany by a whopping margin of more than 2 seconds.

Dukurs finished the four heats in 3 minutes, 37.09 seconds, 2.08 seconds ahead of Rommel. Ben Sandford of New Zealand used a strong third run to vault past Matt Antoine of the United States and take the bronze.

Sandford finished in 339.50, 0.15 ahead of fourth-place finisher Sergei Chudinov of Russia, and became only the second athlete from the Southern hemisphere to win a medal in skeleton, luge or bobsled at the Winter Olympic or world championship level. Sandford's uncle Bruce won gold at the 1992 skeleton world championships in Calgary.

John Daly, of Smithtown, N.Y., finished eighth, 3.43 seconds behind the winner.

Leading Rommel by 0.69 seconds after the first two heats on Friday night, Dukurs put the race out of reach with a third run of 54.34 seconds on a snowy, windswept night at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Rommel followed with a mistake-filled run of 55.21 to fall 1.56 seconds behind, and Antoine, of Prairie du Chien, Wisc., finished his third heat in 55 seconds to fade to fourth, 1.84 seconds off the lead.

It was a bitter disappointment for Antoine, who was upbeat after zooming into third place on Friday night. He was looking to wrest the silver from Rommel and instead was passed by Sandford and Chudinov, tying Dukurs' older brother Tomass for fifth, 2.66 seconds behind.

Dukurs was the man to beat from the start. The defending world champion had won 12 of his past 13 races.

Still, when the first two heats were finished on Friday night, Dukurs brushed off his stunning success.

"In my country, second place is not a place for me," Dukurs said. "They're just waiting for me to win, and that's tough. I'm trying. Big, big pressure. I need to find some way to get out of all this."

This was not the way as the slider dubbed "Superman" dominated all four runs.

"It's pretty basic. There's no secret there for Dukurs," Daly said. "When you get the lead from the beginning, it's hard to catch."

After three heats, only a crash would deprive Dukurs of the gold. Only Rommel, Sandford and Antoine were within 2 seconds of the flying Latvian. Alexander Kroeckel of Germany was 10th, and he was nearly 3 seconds behind.

Dukurs' only loss in the previous 13 races came at Konigssee, Germany in January and was worth the price of admission. After a bad first run left him out of the top 10, he was threatening the track record on the second run, nearly came off his sled, and still managed to finish sixth.

Dukurs has won the past three World Cup titles -- Rommel was runner-up in two of those years and finished third in 2010-11 -- and has had his Olympic moments, too. After finishing seventh at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, he won silver at the Vancouver Games in 2010, finishing just behind Canada's Jon Montgomery.