Matt Antoine’s skeleton career began in 2003 after watching the sport make it’s return to the Olympics one year prior in Salt Lake City. The 16-year-old Wisconsin native struggled with the event early on and was sent home from his first skeleton camp.
He has since become one of the most decorated American athletes in the sport including 13 World Championships appearances since 2009. Antoine’s defining moment on the track came at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi when he won Team USA’s first ever bronze medal in skeleton. In Pyeongchang Antoine will try to make his second straight Olympic podium.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Antoine Won Bronze in Sochi
He became the first American to make the podium in skeleton since Jimmy Shea won gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City, the same event that inspired Antoine to begin his skeleton journey. Alexander Tretiakov of Russia won gold ahead of Antoine, but that medal has come into question after a massive doping scandal involving Russian Olympians, which Tretiakov was involved in.
After a split decision by IOC judges, Tretiakov was able to keep his gold medal, meaning Antoine’s bronze medal did not get elevated to a silver. However Tretiakov was one of 47 Russian Olympians whose appeal to be allowed to compete in Pyeongchang was dismissed by IOC judges. Despite the distraction heading into the 2018 games, Antoine is staying focused on what he can control: “It’s something I’ve been able to separate going into the competition,” Antoine told AZCentral.com.
2. He Has Won Three World Cup Medals
None of those medals have come this season, where Antoine has struggled. The 32-year-old enters Pyeongchang ranked eighth in the world. His highest World Cup finish all season was seventh, and he hasn’t finished higher than ninth in any of his last three races. “That’s not the result I’m capable of or where I want to be,” he told AZCentral.com. “I’ve been playing around with some different equipment in the second half of the season. It’s been difficult, but I can see progress week to week.”
Antoine said he realized halfway through the season he needed to make an equipment change, something normally reserved for the offseason. However it was a risk he was willing to take in order to get faster for the Olympics. “No one really remembers what result you took in the fifth World Cup race of the season, but they’ll remember what you did at the Olympics. It’s about one race this year,” he told AZCentral.com
3. Skeleton Continues To Gain Momentum at the Olympics
Team USA made history as the sport made its return to the 2002 Olympic program in Salt Lake City after a 54-year hiatus. Jim Shea Jr. and Tristan Gale swept gold for the host nation. The 2018 Winter Olympics will mark the fifth time skeleton will be on the program. Prior to 2002, the event last appeared on the Olympic program at its ancestral home of St. Moritz in 1948 and 1924. American Jennison Heaton won the sport’s inaugural gold medal in 1924.
The sport is also bringing new athletes to the Olympic stage. Simidele Adeagbo of Nigeria is Africa’s first ever female Olympic skeleton athlete. “These are huge steps that I’ve made for myself and my country,” Adeagbo told The Toronto Star. Skeleton will also feature athletes from Ghana, Jamaica and Israel at this year’s Olympics.
4. Antoine Was Diagnosed With Situational Depression
He got the diagnosis after winning bronze in Sochi in 2014. Situational depression can also be called adjustment disorder. It is a short-term form of depression that occurs as the result of a traumatic event or change in a person’s life. Shortly after the Olympics, Antoine found solace in a life away from skeleton in Phoenix Arizona. He told 12 News that getting away from the sport “reminded him of how much he loved it”.
Antoine now trains with Stuart McMillan, who was on the Team USA coaching staff in Sochi. The two train together at Altis, a pro track training group in Phoenix. Antoine told AZCentral.com that Phoenix was a good fit for him, and he dropped anchor by buying a home and rescuing an adorable golden retriever from the Arizona Humane Society.
5. He Runs His Dog’s Instagram Account
Antoine rescued Dixie when he moved to Phoenix, and the two have since formed an adorable relationship, which is chronicled on Instagram. While Antoine is away for training during the winter months, Dixie lives with Matt’s mother, Mary, in Wisconsin. “She’s a reverse snowbird,” Antoine told AZCentral.com. Dixie has also helped offset Antoine’s situational depression. “She’s my best friend,” he told People Magazine. “I couldn’t imagine not having her there each day.”
Antoine is an avid dog lover, and according to his Olympic bio, he would own 100 dogs if he could.