By Mark Trevelyan
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - An elated Noelle Pikus-Pace called her Olympic skeleton silver "as good as gold" on Friday and announced her retirement for the second time after bouncing back from injury, family trauma and the disappointment of just missing a medal four years ago.
The 31-year-old American missed the 2006 Olympics when she broke her right leg after being hit by America's four-man bobsleigh. She retired from skeleton after coming fourth in Vancouver in 2010, before returning to the sport in 2012.
It was third time lucky on Friday as she claimed the silver medal behind Britain's Lizzy Yarnold and immediately climbed into the stands to embrace husband Janson and children Lacee and Traycen.
"This is everything I could have imagined and more ... This is as good as gold," said Pikus-Pace, dubbed the "fastest mom on ice", told reporters with tears in her eyes.
"It was worth the wait, it was worth every minute of it. Honestly, you know, getting hit by the bobsleigh, some people look back and say 'Oh man, that's horrible'. Taking fourth in the Olympics, some people say 'Ah too bad, that stinks.'
"And then I had a miscarriage at 18 weeks and many tears were shed. But if I hadn't gone through every single one of those things I would not be here today. And this is right where I want to be."
Having achieved her goal, Pikus-Pace said she would now retire for good from skeleton, the hair-raising sport in which competitors throw themselves hurtling down a snaking icy run head first on sleds wearing Darth Vader-like aerodynamic helmets.
"One hundred percent, that was my last run," she said emphatically. "Every run I write down three goals for myself and my one goal was: 'This is it. Don't get scared now.'"
Pikus-Pace was shocked to learn from reporters that team mate Katie Uhlaender, in fourth place, had missed out on a medal by just 0.04 second after the fourth and final run - an even narrower margin than her own defeat four years ago.
The red-haired Uhlaender, 29, could scarcely believe she was beaten to the bronze by Russia's Elena Nikitina.
"I feel like I slid my heart out. I think I'm suffering from, like, 'the baby who had the candy ripped out of its hands'," she told reporters.
"I don't even know where that four-hundredths came from. I just am blown away. Right now I am really heartbroken," she said.
Pikus-Pace said she would give her team mate a hug. But speaking from experience, she added that it would take a while for Uhlaender's disappointment to fade.
"Like any challenge we have in life, it takes time to overcome that and to figure out what you're supposed to learn from it, because you can't see those things in the moment."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)