Canadian Mellisa Hollingsworth is well within striking distance of gold midway through the women's competition at the world skeleton championships.
American Katie Uhlaender leads after the first two runs with a time of one minute 51.03 seconds. Hollingsworth, from Eckville, Alta., was 0.18 seconds behind on the tricky 19-curve track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
World Cup champion Shelley Rudman of Britain is third, 0.45 behind.
After putting down a solid first run of 55.54 seconds, Uhlaender finished the second heat in 55.49 seconds, the second-best time of the day and only 0.11 seconds off the track record held by teammate Annie O'Shea.
Rudman held the top spot after an opening run of 55.48 seconds but faded to 56.00, while Hollingsworth had a second-run time of 55.57.
"This is a track where there's mistakes all the time," said Hollingsworth, who was second after three runs at the Vancouver Olympics two years ago, then faded to fifth with a bad final run. "Make minimal mistakes, you're going to be the fastest after four heats."
Predictably, Uhlaender was very pleased with her opening runs.
"I'm pretty happy with where I'm at," said Uhlaender. "This is a blessing for me because the doctors didn't know if I'd make it back. To be competing at this level, I've really been so blessed."
Two shattered kneecaps, six months on crutches, eight surgeries. No problem for the two-time Olympian, who's trying to join an elite group of athletes. After this competition ends Friday morning, she'll have a week to get ready for Olympic trials in weightlifting in Columbus, Ohio.
Uhlaender finished third last summer in the women's 63-kilogram division at the USA Weightlifting national championships. She remains optimistic she can make the U.S. team for the London Olympics, which start in late July.
"I've been working really hard on London and world championships," Uhlaender said. "It's been a mentally challenging season balancing both and trying to keep the big picture in mind.
Taking a hit
"My coaches told me all season to stay present, stay in the moment and know where I'm supposed to be. That's what I was thinking the whole way down. I'm going to try to take that approach into tomorrow and Olympic trials, stay in the moment and not try to get ahead of myself. I think that's the key."
Uhlaender's skeleton career took a hit when she crashed her snowmobile after the 2008-09 season, leaving her with a shattered left kneecap and other issues. All that came while she was still struggling with the death of her father, former major leaguer Ted Uhlaender.
The top guns of World Cup opted during Wednesday night's draw not to slide first, and Uhlaender jumped at the chance. She responded to the challenge, beaten only by Rudman on the demanding track, and held her arms outstretched in front of her in celebration as she slid to a halt.
"I was so happy," said Uhlaender, her dad's World Series ring dangling from a chain around her neck. "I told [coach] Tuffy [Latour], 'I want the closest number to first off as possible. If No. 1 isn't taken, I'll take it.'
"I think it's a lot of pressure, but for me with no other times and only myself in the track, it's actually a beautiful moment to stand up there with a clean slate and knowing I've got the freshest ice possible."
Thees slid next and didn't come close to matching Uhlaender, finishing the first heat in 55.98 seconds. Thees won here at worlds in 2009, beating Williams by more than a half-second, and had plenty of time to make up the difference. Her second-run time of 55.75 was fourth-fastest and put her in the running for a podium finish.
Rudman was third to slide in the first heat and, after trailing Uhlaender's time for much of the way down, cruised past the finish in 55.48 to gain a slim lead of 0.06.
O'Shea had a brief lead after posting the fastest start of the opening run, then made an early mistake and finished 0.72 behind in 13th. She was 0.07 better the second time down, but 1.30 seconds behind her teammate in 12th.