Saturday, February 20, 2010
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Williams wins Olympic skeleton gold for Britain

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[February 20, 2010]  WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) -- Noelle Pikus-Pace spent 10 years chasing a medal, and missed it by 0.10 seconds.

Spoiled by a spoiler.

InsuranceAmy Williams finished off a surprising - some protesting nations said tainted - run to the women's skeleton gold medal at the Vancouver Games on Friday, giving Britain its first individual Winter Olympics title since figure skater Robin Cousins prevailed at Lake Placid in 1980.

"It was the perfect performance," bronze medalist Anja Huber of Germany said. "She's the right Olympic champion."

Not everyone agreed.

The International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing denied two protests - from Canada and the United States - claiming the helmet was not compliant with FIBT rules regarding aerodynamics. It was the second protest filed by the U.S. in as many nights.


"It's pretty much the same as everyone else's helmet," Williams said. "And if people want to try and play mind games that's fine."

Williams finished four runs at the Whistler Sliding Center in 3 minutes, 35.64 seconds. Germans took silver and bronze, with Kerstin Szymkowiak finished 0.56 seconds off Williams' pace and Huber came in third.

"I feel like I'm in a little bubble," Williams said. "I'm not quite sure if it's real or not."

Williams had never before won a race against all the world's top women sliders. Until now, her career highlight was a silver medal at last year's world championships.

At the Olympics, her fast times were the talk of a track where concerns over speed have been nonstop, exacerbated by the death of a men's luger hours before opening ceremonies.

The protests say that a series of tiny ridges called spoilers across the top of Williams' helmet gave her an illegal edge. That edge, some Americans said, may have cost Noelle Pikus-Pace a medal. She finished fourth in her final race.

"I wouldn't be satisfied unless I gave it everything I had," said the longtime racer from Eagle Mountain, Utah. "And I think I did."

A gold-medal favorite entering the 2006 Olympic season before her leg was shattered in a freak accident, Pikus-Pace came to Whistler expecting a medal.

Getting close seemed to be some consolation.

"It's been a long ride to get here, missing out on Torino, getting run over by a bobsled and having a baby," Pikus-Pace said. "But I couldn't be happier for what happened over these last two days."

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The protests all pointed to FIBT Rule 10.12.A, which states that a skeleton racer's helmet "has to be without any spoilers."

In its decision regarding the first U.S. protest, the FIBT said it checked with the manufacturer of Williams' headgear and found "the spoilers are an intregal part of the helmet."

So if spoilers are illegal, how were they legal?

"A clear violation," said U.S. assistant coach Greg Sand. "This is not about Amy, who's a great person. It's about the helmet."

Pikus-Pace wore red, white and blue headphones - gold stars over the earpieces - and took photos from the start deck for her scrapbook.

Then she was all business.

Looking straight ahead as she snapped her visor into place, Pikus-Pace hopped aboard the sled her husband, Janson, built for this final season. And 54.07 seconds later, it was over. She waved goodbye.


"Going into that fourth run, I knew I had nothing to lose," she said. "I wanted to lay it all on the line and give everything I had and let my sled slide. I was hoping it would be enough to put me up a bit - and I finished one-tenth from the podium."

The other American in the field, Katie Uhlaender of Breckenridge, Colo., finished 11th in 3:37.93.

[Associated Press; By TIM REYNOLDS]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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