Williams reaches the top on sliding scale

Former runner's single-minded determination earns Britain's first individual Winter Games gold medal for 30 years
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The Independent Online

Eight years ago Amy Williams abandoned her running spikes and took up bob skeleton for "a bit of a giggle". High in the Whistler mountains, she laughed all the way to a gold medal.

Shrugging off the pressure that came with leading by 0.3sec overnight at the midway point of the event, Williams returned to a track she loves in the early hours of yesterday morning to shatter her own course record and win by more than half a second. She became Great Britain's first individual Winter Olympics gold medallist since Robin Cousins in 1980, and the first individual female champion since another figure skater, Jeanette Altwegg, in 1952.

"I came out for my final runs and just deleted my previous ones [from my mind]," Williams said. "I just wanted to have fun and not really think this is for a gold medal. I stuck to the same old thing I always do, and the consistency paid off."

It is that sort of single-minded determination that has hauled Williams from the status of ex- athlete (a victim of shin splints) beyond team-mate Shelley Rudman, who won the silver medal in this event four years ago, to the top of the Olympic podium. When she looked down at the gold medal, she saw the reward for years of hard work.

The 27-year-old's campaign started on a strictly do-it-yourself basis; she had been left to her own devices after impressing in practice on the push-start facility in her native Bath. Before she collected financial support from the official coffers, she had to pay her own bills. Williams said: "I did wonder at times: 'Why on earth am I doing this?' But if you want to win you have to make sacrifices."

Those early hardships and the pain of not being selected for the Turin Games four years ago all melted away on the fastest ice track in the world as Williams wrote her name into British sporting history.

"I can't believe it's happening. It just feels like I'm in a bit of a bubble, and apart from everyone wanting to have interviews with me it doesn't seem quite real," she said as she came to terms with being the champion.

She said she was nervous before the last two runs "but I was expecting to be more nervous. I just kept cool and I had nothing to lose and I enjoyed every minute of it".

The controversial 90mph-plus course, on which the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in practice, apparently after making a small error, was right up her street. "I love this track. Once you get over the fear factor you learn to love it and the speed is your friend," Williams said.

She set a track record of 53.83sec in her first competition run on Thursday to open a lead over two Germans, Katerina Szymkowiak and Anja Huber, who went on to claim silver and bronze respectively.

Rudman, who came into the event as seemingly Britain's best hope after her silver medal four years ago, had a dismal first run which left her 11th, but improved to finish sixth.

Another record run third time down for Williams left the gold riding on her ability to hold her nerve. She did, and when the judges threw out protests from the US and Canada over the legality of her helmet it was hats off to a gritty, British champion.

But while Britain enjoyed the golden girl's triumph Georgia mourned. Top officials were among thousands gathered for Kumaritashvili's funeral in his home town, Bakuriani.

Curling brought Britain its previous gold medal, the women's team winning in 2002. This time the men improved their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals with a 9-4 victory over China.

Chemmy Alcott, second to go in a field of 53 in the women's Super-G, admitted she "didn't really go for it" and finished in 20th place. She has the giant slalom to come on Wednesday.

Austrian Andrea Fischbacher ran away with the race to ruin American Lindsey Vonn's dreams of a golden double. Slovenia's Tina Maze snatched second place from Vonn, who had hoped to become the first U S alpine skier in 58 years to win two golds at a single Games.

The Swiss skijumper Simon Ammann did complete a double by winning large hill gold to add to his triumph on the normal hill.

Today's events

5.00pm: Curling

Women's round robin, inc GB v Swit

5:30: Alpine Skiing

Men's super combined downhill

8.00: Ice Hockey

Men's preliminary round

8.15: Alpine Skiing

Men's super combined slalom

9.18: Freestyle Skiing

Men's ski-cross finals

10.00: Curling

Men's round robin, inc US v GB

11.00: Speed Skating

Women's 1500m

11.05: Bobsleigh

Two-man heat four

0.15am Figure Skating

Ice dance, original dance