After two heats of men's skeleton at the 2022 Winter Olympics, a clear gold medal favorite has emerged: Germany's Christopher Grotheer. He established a big lead with his first run, which lasted a minute flat and maxed out at over 81 miles per hour; his next heat earned the second-fastest time of the race thus far, 1:00.33. Grotheer's ahead of second-place compatriot Axel Jungk by 0.70 seconds at the midway point.
China's Yan Wengang currently stands third, 0.75 seconds off the top spot. The host nation has claimed men's skeleton gold at each of the last three Winter Games. That likely won't be the case this year, but with results like these, Yan could snatch silver.
An athlete can't necessarily win a skeleton competition in a single heat, but he or she can certainly lose it. As in skeleton's sister sport, luge, many sliders at the 2022 Winter Olympics struggled with the serpentine track known as "The Flying Snow Dragon," which includes especially sharp turns at curves 12 and 13.
The field was given the difficult task of balancing speed and caution: Athletes like Latvia's Martins Dukurs and American Samoa's Nathan Crumpton skidded or full-on pinballed against the walls. Dukurs, who entered the race as a gold-medal favorite, laid down two solid but underwhelming heats, each 1:00.76 minutes – not the fastest, but consistent enough to keep him at the top of the pack.
The reigning gold medalist, Yun Sung-Bin, dragged his toe and tapped the walls to 12th place at the halfway mark. He won't defend his title. "It's hard to do it for four runs in a row, let alone two Olympiads in a lifetime," commentator Mark Doran said.
Andrew Blaser, the United States' lone male competitor, missed the top 20. Unless he can manage to improve his standing, the American will race only one more run in the second half of competition.
The final two heats of men's skeleton begin Friday, Feb. 11 at 7:20 a.m. ET. Competition continues with the women's first two heats Thursday, Feb. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The full skeleton schedule can be found HERE.