WHISTLER (Reuters) - Amy Williams roared to Britain’s first Olympic gold medal in an individual winter event since 1980 in the women’s skeleton on Friday but had an anxious wait before Canada had an appeal against her helmet rejected.
The Canadians, whose own gold medal hope Mellisa Hollingsworth finished a tearful fifth, followed an earlier failed U.S. appeal against Williams’s helmet which they said had illegal aerodynamic features.
Maybe the hosts were just bamboozled by the speed of Williams who had never won a World Cup race despite a silver medal the 2009 world championships.
The ice cool Queen of Speed smashed the women’s course record on Thursday to hold the midway lead and went even faster in heat three with a new record of 53.68 to widen the gap to the chasing pack led by favorite Hollingsworth.
With a healthy 0.52-second cushion going into her fourth and final slide, Williams kept it clean through the 16 unforgiving curves to match the feat of Briton Robin Cousins who won the men’s figure skating title in Lake Placid 30 years ago.
“It’s amazing, I feel like I‘m in a little bubble and not sure if it’s real or not,” the curly-haired Williams told Reuters as fans, some dressed as St George, waved Union Jacks in the grandstand and toasted their new sporting heroine.
“I knew I had to just keep it together. I can’t remember what I did on the last run, half of the track is just a blur.”
Hollingsworth’s gold medal dream ended in despair when she crunched into a wall in the middle of her final run meaning Germany’s Kerstin Szymkowiak took the silver, 0.56 seconds behind Williams, and compatriot Anja Huber the bronze.
“It is just really hard,” Hollingsworth, this season’s World Cup winner, said, tears streaking her red cheeks.
“I feel like I have let my entire country down. It could have happened anywhere, at a World Cup ... but it happened at the Olympic Games.”
Williams, on a sled she calls Arthur, was unstoppable in all four runs, leading from start to finish, to become Britain’s first gold medalist in a sliding sport since Anthony Nash and Robin Dixon in the two-man bobsleigh in 1964.
Former rower Steve Redgrave, Britain’s most decorated Olympian, greeted Williams after her final slide to glory.
“The first thing she said to me after was when does it sink in?,” Redgrave, who won five Olympic owing golds, told reporters. “I said it never does. You can be world champion for a year but you are Olympic champion for life.”
While the Canadians ands Americans clutched at straws it was left to bronze medalists Huber to put Williams’ dazzling performance into perspective.
“She had three times the best time,” Huber said. “It was a perfect perfect performance. She’s the right Olympic champion.”
The Canadian and American protest against Williams’s helmet was based on its spoilers which the manufacturers explained to the governing body, the International Bobsleigh Federation (FITB), were an integral part of it and therefore legal.
“FITB rules state that a safety helmet should not have any additionally attached aerodynamic elements or adhesive tape (except that used to fix the visor and the goggle strap) and has to be without any spoilers or edges that stick out,” said a spokesman.
Editing by Ed Osmond