Women's Skeleton: Williams fast emerging as Hollingsworth's true rival

Struggling Rudman in danger of being eclipsed by Bath's fearless contender
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The Independent Online

Four years after Shelley Rudman came from nowhere to claim silver in Turin, Great Britain's best hopes of winning a first Winter Olympic medal of 2010 have once again emerged from an unexpected quarter. While Rudman continues to struggle to adapt to the lightning-fast Whistler track ahead of tonight's start of the women's skeleton competition, team-mate Amy Williams's practice times have flung the Bath athlete into contention.

Williams recorded the second quickest time in three of the final four training runs, suggesting that she is capable of emulating her World Cup silver medal at the same venue last year behind Mellisa Hollingsworth, whop is the strong Canadian gold medal favourite.

Rudman, by contrast, freely admits that the Whistler track is not for her, although a series of off-pace training times improved to a fourth place on the final run, marking her out as an outside bet to repeat her heroics of Turin.

Throughout a build-up in which most of the attention has been focused on her rival Rudman, Williams has quietly told those who would listen that the hair-raising speed and curves of the Whistler course would suit her strengths.

Now with the spotlight well and truly swivelled in her direction for the four runs split over tomorrow and Saturday which will determine the medals high in the Canadian mountains, Williams is determined to manage the raised expectations.

"You kind of presume you're not going to get a medal because of how well the Canadians are doing," she said. "I haven't let it enter my head and I'm just going to stick that way and not get nervous.

"My main concern was whether being at the Olympics would freak me out. I have been very tired the whole time because I've been living on adrenaline but on track I treat it like any other race.

"On the first day I was really nervous and tense but now I've just relaxed and I'm enjoying it. When I enjoy it it sort of comes out of my body and into the sled. Hopefully I can continue to enjoy it."

Four years ago it was Rudman who grabbed the attention with a pair of stunning final training runs, helping her translate a series of lower top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit into that silver medal at Cesana Pariol.

But in contrast to Williams, Rudman has made no secret of her dislike for the Whistler track and has struggled to match the pace of Hollingsworth or Williams, although her final run, when she was 0.43sec down on the leader, gives some hope.

Rudman said: "I need 10 more runs then I'd be spot on. I thought I could crack quite a few of the corners today but I'm still have problems in the top section. Plus I had a smack on one of the bends so I'm a bit bruised.

"I think it's one of those tracks where I'll come back in two years and I'll win and I'll be like, 'damn it.' At the moment I'm still figuring things out and it's a race against time whether I can put it together for tomorrow or not."

The reigning world champion Hollingsworth appears as big a certainty for gold as one can be in a sport measured in hundredths of a second, after sliding down clearly fastest in both final training runs yesterday.

But having been repeatedly asked for her views on her rivalry with Rudman in the build-up to the competition, it was no surprise that Hollingsworth today singled out the emerging Williams as a genuine contender.

Hollingsworth said: "She was on the podium here in the World Cup and obviously she's got a great start and is very competitive on this course. It definitely speaks volumes for the strength of the British skeleton programme."