Amy takes ice dream with a 'pinch of salt'

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The Independent Online

Riding triumphantly through her home city in an open-top bus with thousands cheering all the way may not be quite as hazardous as hurtling headlong down a deadly refrigerated ice tube high in the Rockies at 90mph but for Britain's new sporting sweetheart it was even more exhilarating.

Fresh from carrying the British flag in the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, and clutching her gold medal, Amy Williams returned from Vancouver to savour the hero's welcome in Bath on Wednesday, when the crowds included 1,500 schoolchildren chanting: "Amy! Amy!" On Thursday morning she woke to six pages devoted to her in the Bath Chronicle, big licks again in the nationals plus an invitation to appear on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.

She also found time for yet another press conference, this time to thank all those who backed her, including funders UK Sport and BAE Systems, and Southampton and Bath Universities who provided technological support and training facilities. Her beloved Arthur, the skeleton in her cupboard, stood in front of her, a badge of honour as she smilingly acknowledged the tributes and acclamations – the very essence of what Britain wants an Olympic champion to be.

"Being on the bus was just a fantastic day for me," she said as we chatted later. "I was amazed just how many people turned up, it seemed the whole city came together and lined the streets. It was crazy, I never thought it would be like this. I was lost for words. In the two weeks since the race I've been pinching myself. Coming home to that reception really hit me, and made it real. Wow!

"Then Jonathan Ross invited me on to his show next week and there's been a call from Blue Peter. I think I'm going on A Question of Sport too. All this fuss is something I am not used to. It's all a bit out of my comfort zone really but I know I have to do it. It still seems strange when people ask for my autograph." She pledges she will never change. "I'll always be me." The Queen of Speed she may be but her brother Simon says she will still be called upon to power-wash the patio or clean the bathroom.

"As soon as I won, I realised my life was going to change, but ultimately I am still just an athlete doing my job and that's what will keep me grounded and normal," says the 27-year-old Williams. "All I am focused on is training for the next Olympics in Sochi because physically I feel I can get even faster and stronger. I'm happy the skeleton has been brought into the limelight but it's still a little sport. I'm taking it all with a pinch of salt."

The bus ride was not quite a unique experience as she usually travels on public transport. "I live quite near a bus stop so it is handy, but I suppose now I'll have to think about a car."

Arthur has helped her find fame but she knows it is unlikely she will ever find fortune. "I've read through all my cuttings and some of the papers are saying how much money I'm going to make. But honestly, I don't think I will. This is not a sport where you make piles of money. No one gets rich. You do it because you love it.

"I certainly haven't got any money in my pocket yet and we'll have to wait and see if any sponsorship deals come though. I'd love a car and I'd be more than happy to splash sponsorship over the side."

There is no side to this slider. What you see is what you get. When we last met in Bath a year ago, she said she had no boyfriend and was looking for a "rich Argentinian polo player". Well, she has settled for a not-so-rich Czech bob-sledder, 32-year-old Petr Narovec, now unemployed after finishing his Olympic contract, who says: "Amy is a sweetheart with the biggest heart I've ever known."

Says Williams: "Originally my plan was to move over to Prague and train with him there but after all this I shall have to re-evaluate. We'll travel back and forth to see each other. My base is still Bath, my coach is here and I am still going to stick to the same programme." And, of course, still bobbing along with Arthur.

But for Amy and Arthur, what a bleak midwinter games it would have been for Team GB. The curlers couldn't do it (will there be some sweeping changes there?), neither could the Kerrs. But Curly-Wurly came up with the goods and the gold and now her life, like her sport, really is in the fast lane.