Having narrowly missed 2010 Games, skeleton's Matt Antoine ready for Sochi
After winning bronze in the Whistler World Cup in Feb. 2009, Matt Antoine looked to be a good bet to make the U.S. men's skeleton team in Vancouver the next year. Unfortunately for Antoine, it didn't work out that way, leaving the Prairie du Chien, Wisc. native with a damaged sense of confidence. Antoine rebounded shortly afterwards and this year recorded his best season to date, winning three World Cup medals, including his first gold medal. The 28-year-old talked about recovering from the disappointment of 2010 and why he thinks he is sliding better than ever before.
NBC: What was it like when you found out you would officially be making your first trip to the Olympics?
Antoine: It was a great moment, for sure. I’ve put over 10 years into this and it certainly has its ups and downs, but if you ask anybody who makes an Olympic team I don’t think any of them would say that it was easy for them to get there. When the official word came out, it was a great moment, not only for myself but for my family.
My family has been part of this from the beginning. My mom has been my biggest fan and supporter and she’s not only pushed me along, but she’s been there during the low points and helped picked me back up when times were tough. Without her support and the support of my entire family I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today.
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NBC: Was not being selected for the 2010 Olympic team your toughest moment?
Antoine: Yeah, I would definitely say so. Given the year I had prior to that, expectations were high. I knew I could not only be [in Vancouver] but I could potentially be a medal favorite. When the year of the Games came around, I just wasn’t the same as I was the year before. I wasn’t competing as well, my confidence started to dwindle and it was a pretty frustrating year capped off by not making the team.
NBC: Did you consider giving up the sport after that disappointment?
Antoine: No, I never did. I just took a little time to re-group and kind of assess what went wrong, why did things go the way they did. I really began to formulate a plan from there as to how I was going to be better, not only next year but the next four years. I came out of time trials the year after the Games and was ranked USA-1 and had the best season I’d had to that point, so I rebounded pretty quickly. Even though that year tough to handle, it’s really what has made me so successful the past four years.
NBC: What had been your plan to get yourself to bounce back?
Antoine: I knew one of the biggest things I needed to work on was improving my push. That summer I decided to move out to Colorado Springs to train with Jon Carlock at the Olympic Training Center there. He really took me to a new level. I’d always been kind of average at the push and that following year I was one of the top guys. It really started from there. I also really worked on my mindset – how do I approach each race? – and worked on my confidence so that when I walked to the line I knew I could be competitive with the best in the world.
NBC: You’ve exhibited even more improvement since then, especially during the 2013-14 World Cup season, when you won three medals. What would you attribute this year’s success to?
Antoine: The year before this I had a pretty lackluster year, but a lot of that I can attribute to the knee surgery I had to have in the summer of 2012. I had had a torn patellar tendon and I was still competing on it the year prior, but I knew it wasn’t right and if I didn’t do something about it it was going to ruin my chances for 2014. I don’t want to say I wrote off last season, but I took a step back in order to take a step forward this year. This year I just focused on getting back to where I was physically with my strength and with my speed and all that. There’s a lot of other things we’ve been working on within the team too – improving our equipment, just trying to keep pace not only with the rest of the countries’ technology programs but trying to surpass them also. I was also working with my sports psychologist in Chicago to get my confidence back after having a bit of a setback.
Antoine: We’ve been sliding together for over 10 years. We all came in to the sport at around the same time. We’ve taken all the steps through the team at around the same pace, so we’ve all been progressing. All three of us wanted to make an Olympic team together some day, and it’s taken over 10 years to get there, but we did it this year. We’re all really excited to be competing together.
NBC: How many times have you been down the Sochi track and what’s the key to having a good run there?
Antoine: I’ve probably taken between 40 and 50 runs on it. One of the keys to that track is having a fast push. It’s slow up top, it’s pretty flat, so any advantage you can give yourself at the start is going to carry for quite a ways on that track. That’s obviously the first step to being successful there. Being a relatively new track we are still trying to test equipment, and we’re going to be doing that for the first week while we’re in Sochi, trying to find the fastest set-up in the sleds. One unique aspect of that track is that it has three uphill sections and that’s not something we’ve seen in any other tracks before. A lot of it is going to be minimizing any sort of mistakes, because when you make a mistake in an uphill section, it’s really going to cost you time. I know it sounds weird to say ‘No mistakes,’ because that’s always true, but it’s especially true on this one.
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NBC: What has been your career highlight so far? Was it winning gold at the Lake Placid World Cup in December?
Antoine: Yeah, the race in Lake Placid definitely has to be the highlight of my time in the sport so far. That was a huge moment, being my first World Cup win. I’ve always enjoyed Lake Placid – it’s one of my favorite tracks – and just the excitement of everyone that was there too was awesome.
NBC: Did you have any family members at that race?
I did not. It’s kind of funny: My mom always makes the trip to Lake Placid every year to watch whatever race was going on – whether it was Americas Cup when I first started or World Cup – and that’s the first one she hasn’t been to. They’ve all kind of saved up their money to go to Sochi. Of course, I win that one when no one is there! But they were still excited nonetheless.
NBC: A lot of skeleton athletes have some pretty interesting designs on their helmets. Yours is all-white. Why haven’t you ever tried to get a crazy design on it?
That’s the color it came in, and I’ve never done anything to it [laughs]. I would get a more interesting design, but if you get it done the wrong way, the paint chips very easily because our helmets make contact with the ice. You kind of have to get someone who knows how to properly paint a helmet. It’s got two small American flags on it, so it has a little personality to it.
Embedded video_content_type: Cheat Sheet: Skeleton