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Skeleton: Slides of strength top goal for Korea

Associated Press

Korean skeleton star Yun Sungbin is absolutely obsessed with Iron Man. He collects the figurines. He’s seen the movies. He knows every aspect of the superhero’s story.

Some even call him Iron Man. He may be called Gold Man soon.

South Korea has 26 gold medals in its Winter Olympic history — all on ice, all with skates involved, most from speedskating. The nation doesn’t have much of a sliding history, but has made great strides as it builds momentum to host the Pyeongchang Games. And Yun is certainly one of the host nation’s top gold hopefuls, looking to parlay his home-track advantage into big things.

“I do believe that if I focus on what I should do, then everything will come out great,” Yun told Korean media in early January.

He could be right.

Yun was the only slider on the circuit to finish first or second in each of the first six World Cup races this season. If there’s any pressure on him as he goes into his second Olympics, and obviously his first at home, it’s not showing.

He will face serious competition from the Latvian brother duo of Martins Dukurs and Tomass Dukurs, while Matt Antoine of the United States — a medalist from the Sochi Games — has been trying to build his entire season around peaking in Pyeongchang.

In women’s skeleton, Britain might have a chance at a third straight gold from a third different woman. Laura Deas will look to carry on her team’s tradition of winning the sport’s biggest race, after Amy Williams in 2010 and Lizzy Yarnold in 2014. Since skeleton returned to the Olympic program in 2002, a British woman has won gold, silver or bronze every time.

MEDAL FAVORITES: The women’s race could be wide open, with no fewer than 10 medal contenders from seven countries. Yun will be the men’s favorite, and since the host Koreans have far more runs down the track at the Alpensia Sliding Center than anyone else, his familiarity there could be the edge he needs.

BEST RIVALRY: Nothing like a sibling rivalry, and in this case, poor Tomass Dukurs. The Latvian is one of the sport’s very best sliders right now, but is also second-best in his own family. His brother Martins Dukurs finishes ahead of him more than 90 percent of the time when they’ve both been entered in the same international competition.

RISING STARS: The future of women’s skeleton is clear. Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling is 22, Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje is 23, and they have been consistently better than everyone else this season. This could be the start of a real Olympic rivalry.

RULE CHANGES: A World Cup has two heats on one day; an Olympic competition has four heats over two days.

DON’T MISS: Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada is a 38-year-old who once was a teacher and part-time bus driver before deciding to pursue his Olympic skeleton hopes. He’s called Alphabet, for obvious reasons.

OLYMPIAN EFFORT: John Daly of the United States will make headlines for his super-coiffed hair. He retired after a last-run disaster in Sochi, then came back while holding down a full-time job, and everything he’s done over the past two years has been about getting ready for this race. He’ll go for broke, and it might net him a medal.

Americans to watch

Matt Antoine: The Prairie du Chien, Wis., native earned bronze at the Sochi Games. Antoine, 32, who holds a degree in sports management, wellness and fitness from California State University of Pennsylvania, finished seventh at the 2017 world championships in Germany.

John Daly: The Smithtown, N.Y., resident finished 15th in the Sochi Games and 17th in Vancouver. Daly, 32, who briefly retired after slipping during his final run in Sochi, placed 17th at last year’s world championships. The former BMX racer was a Division III All-America decathlete at Plattsburgh (N.Y.) State.

Katie Uhlaender: The Vail, Colo., native just missed the podium in Sochi, finishing fourth. Uhlaender, 33, who has had 12 surgeries (surprisingly none related to sliding injuries), will be participating in her fourth Olympics.

Kendall Wesenberg: The Castro Valley, Calif., native became the first American woman to claim the overall European Cup title in 2014-15 and has since been racing on the World Cup circuit. Wesenberg, 27, the sole Olympic newcomer of the group, has four top-20 and one top-10 finish on the World Cup circuit and is ranked No. 18 in the world.

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