Olympic skeleton medalist Antoine announces retirement

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Matt Antoine waves to the parade crowd on Blackhawk Avenue in Prairie du Chien while wearing his 2014 Winter Olympic Bronze Medal in skeleton. (Courier Press file photo)

 

Before leaving the mixed zone at the completion of his fourth and final run at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in 2018, Matt Antoine of Prairie du Chien said he was going to “take it easy, decompress a little bit” before he figured out what he was going to do next.

Antoine won the national team selection trial held in Lake Placid, N.Y. on Saturday, Oct. 20, Thursday, Oct. 25 and Friday, Oct. 26, but he knew the fire wasn’t there anymore and reigniting the passion wasn’t going to happen on his sled. Antoine figured out what will: coaching.

“Matt has been a rock for the team,” said USABS CEO Darrin Steele. “While we’ll miss watching him battle it out on the ice, we’re looking forward to having Matt join our coaching staff to help develop the next generation of athletes to follow in his footsteps.”

Discussions regarding Antoine’s addition to the skeleton coaching staff started immediately after the USABS learned of Antoine’s decision to retire. 

“Even though I know competing isn’t right for me anymore, I still feel like I have a lot to give to the sport,” Antoine said. “I want to be involved, even if it’s in a different capacity. I would not have had the career that I have without so many great people within the organization. Coaches, staff, medical personnel; the list goes on. Hopefully I can be one of those people to a future athlete.”

Antoine’s mother, Mary, is a Winter Olympic fan, so naturally the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 were a big deal in their home. It was while watching the Olympics that Antoine saw the sport of skeleton, which led to a trip to Lake Placid to take a combine. He was invited to a camp in November 2003, but sent home after not meeting standards. 

“There are so many people that have been crucial to the success I’ve had in my career,” Antoine said. “The beginning stages of getting into the sport can be difficult from an emotional standpoint and there are massive financial hurdles to get over too. Without my family, there’s no way I would have survived the first couple of years in the sport.”

He didn’t give up. It was the first sign of his determination and dedication to a sport he’d leave a legacy in.

“Matt has tons of grit,” Steele said. “He doesn’t make excuses. He shows up every day, does his job, and is self-motivated. It’s been inspiring to watch his journey.”

Eleven years after being cut from the skeleton school, Antoine won the first Olympic medal in skeleton for the U.S. program in 12 years. Throughout his career, Antoine earned two Olympic berths, the 2014 Olympic bronze medal, nine World Cup medals, and seven World Championship nominations. He helped Team USA win the 2012 Lake Placid World Championship gold medal in the team event by a dominating margin of 0.73 seconds.

The medals mattered, but they weren’t everything to Antoine. He said it was the friendships he’s made over the years on the ice that will last a lifetime, while the medal moments are fleeting.

“To be able to spend my entire career sliding and competing with my best friends, that’s the greatest feeling,” Antoine said after his final run at the PyeongChang Games in 2018. “Those are the things you’re going to remember most when it’s all over. The results, they fade away. The crowds go home. The friendships that you have are the things you’re going to remember.”

Antoine started the sport at the same time as John Daly and Kyle Tress. The three quickly became friends, and all three were selected to represent Team USA at the Sochi Games in 2014.

“There’s only so much time we’re on the track,” Antoine said. “There’s a lot of time off the ice that you spend with people you compete with, and it develops strong friendships that makes the experience priceless. That’s ultimately what you’re going to remember the most.”

“Three best friends accomplishing a dream at the same time, it just doesn’t get better than that,” Daly said.

Daly was in fourth place after three of four runs at the Sochi Olympics, 0.04 of a second behind Antoine for bronze-medal position. His medal hopes evaporated with a slip at the start of his final run, and he dropped to 15th.

Antoine held on, sliding across the finish in third place to secure the 2014 Olympic bronze medal. Antoine didn’t celebrate after earning his medal; instead, he sought out his friend and teammate. 

“The first thing he thought about was consoling me,” Daly said. “He said, ‘The only reason I got this medal is because of you. We’re only as good as we are because we had each other.’ He’s the most selfless person I know. The guy doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, it means something.”

Daly left the door open for a comeback after 2018, but said he was likely retiring for the second time and ultimately the last time. Tress made his last run at the 2017-2018 team selections with Antoine and Daly at the start. They took turns holding his sled, gave Tress a hug and cheered as he took his final run. 

“Matt set the standard for excellence for all American skeleton athletes, then consistently surpassed it season after season,” Tress said. “John and I were lucky to be beside him nearly every step of the way – as friends, teammates, competitors, and fellow Olympians. Matt made me a better athlete and a better person, and I know he will achieve as much success in his next phase of life as he did in this one. Niente paura.”

“Niente paura” translates into “no fear,” and comes from a song that was played repeatedly on the Italian MTV station, which was the only station they got while staying in a rundown, unoccupied hotel in Cesana, Italy in 2007. Before the first run of the season, they would say “niente paura” to one another. For the first time this season, Antoine was in the start house without either best friend, without anyone to say “niente paura” to before the first run.

“It’s the end of an era,” Daly said.

Antoine hails from Prairie du Chien, where his mom still resides, but moved to Phoenix, Ariz. in 2015 to train at a new facility. He bought a home and adopted a golden retriever named Dixie from the Arizona Humane Society. He’s spent every offseason since renovating his house and has interest in starting his own renovation business. 

“I get to spend a little more time enjoying my house and the things I’ve grown to enjoy and that have become my identity over the past few years,” Antoine said. “It’s become more and more difficult to leave home the past few years. I enjoy having time at home with Dixie and my family and it’s kind of nice not having to train. I want to have more time, to do normal things that most people take for granted. I’m looking forward to starting this next chapter.”

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