Williams in a class of her own
Golden girl Amy Williams completed her coronation as Olympic skeleton queen in much the same way she raced here in Whistler. Smoothly, cheerfully, coolly.
British sports fans are traditionally used to a roller-coaster of emotions before any success, but the UK's first individual Winter Olympics gold medallist for 30 years didn't put the country through the wringer, didn't slip up at the final hurdle. She just finished the job ruthlessly, professionally.
The only minor tremors were the protests against the design of her helmet, first by the Americans late on Thursday night, after Williams led after both training runs, and then again by the Canadians at the end. "Oh no. It's Alain Baxter all over again," was the instant reaction, followed by "sour grapes, maybe?" But both protests were quickly dismissed.
Williams was a reserve in Turin four years ago Photograph: Getty
In the hours before Friday's final two runs, the Whistler Sliding Centre, a superb venue despite the tragedy of Nodar Kumaritashvili's death last week, was buzzing as face-painted fans draped in any number of national flags poured in.
Williams's parents Jan and Ian secured a front-row seat in the grandstand well ahead of time, telling me they were 'quite nervous'. And the great and the good of the British Olympic establishment turned up - Sir Steve Redgrave, Lord Moynihan, BOA chief Andy Hunt. Even Sir Richard Branson was there.
And all because a bubbly 27-year-old from Bath with a dream of opening her own art gallery was showing the world how to slide very quickly down an icy track.
Williams had led after Thursday's first two runs with a 0.3-second lead over German Kerstin Szymkowiak, with Canada's pre-race favourite and World Cup winner Melissa Hollingsworth a further 0.09 seconds back.
We, of course, all turned into skeleton experts overnight and began postulating and pontificating on whether she could hang on to the advantage.
Williams, though, was unfazed. "I surprised myself at how chilled out I was," she said afterwards. "I just did the same things, I felt cool, just really looking forward to the day."
Sliding first in run three, Williams set a new track record, after breaking the old one with her first run, and British expectation ramped up another notch. She bobbed over to us in the press area like she had just been given an A+ for an essay. Happy, yes, but not overly excited.
Britain's Turin silver medallist Shelley Rudman was the seventh slider down and hopes were still high for her, too, after climbing up four places from 11th with her second run. A banner in the crowd read "Shelley on her belly wins gold in the skelly". But after her "terrible" first run on Thursday, Britain's only medallist four years ago was unable to make further inroads.
A side story in the run-up to the Games focused on an apparent feud between Williams and Rudman, which Williams dismissed as nothing on her personal blog.
And Rudman, sensing her own challenge was over, said after her third run: "I really hope Amy does it now. To win a medal at the Olympics is something special."
A bunch of topless British lads chanted "Skelly's coming home, it's coming home," during the break before the final run, with Williams now leading Hollingsworth by 0.52 seconds.
Rudman put down the fastest time to end sixth, but Hollingsworth, going down last but one, messed up in a big way and fell back to a tear-filled fifth.
As dusk fell, and the floodlights lit up the Whistler track, the impish Williams stood alone at the top, her destiny in her own hands. She's spoken all week about how she loves this track, and despite only being fourth fastest on the final run, she did more than enough to hang on to her first place, though she admitted afterwards that the run was just a blur. (aren't they all, at that speed?)
"The first number I saw when I looked up was a three so I thought I had moved down, but then I saw smiles and I knew I'd won," she said.
The British fans, be they bare-chested, dressed as knights, or clad in sensible, warm, patriotic clothes, went potty. Mr and Mrs Williams cheered, waved and took pictures.
With the hullabaloo in full swing, Williams was whisked over to Clare Balding to speak live on BBC TV. Her appearance was one of the few times Redgrave, who was in mid-sentence, has been simply barged side.
"I'm speechless," she said, blue-grey eyes twinkling under a navy Team GB woolly hat. "It's absolutely brilliant. It's out of this world. Never in a million years did I think I'd come here and win gold. I don't think it will sink in for weeks and weeks.
"It's amazing to do this for my country. I had nothing to lose here and I just went for it. I enjoyed every minute."
Williams missed out on competing in Turin as the only British spot available went to Rudman. Instead she commentated for BBC 5 live, but admitted here that watching the race only spurred her on. She finished runner-up at last year's World Championships and ended the season in a creditable fifth place in the World Cup.
"I've done everything I possibly could in the last four years to get here and to put in my best performance," she said.
Fans celebrate Williams winning gold Photograph: Getty
As the celebrations continued, choruses of "Rule Britannia" rang out in that ironically funny British way, as if the country has won a bag full of medals. And the topless blokes with the letters "A", "M" and "Y" emblazoned in red on their chests, chanted Williams's name.
"Who are those guys?" she said. "I've know idea who they are. They know me, though."
Rudman told me in London before the Games that since winning silver in Turin she is now sort of half-recognised in a "are you that skeleton girl?" kind of way.
But Williams has become Britain's first individual gold medallist since figure skater Robin Cousins won in 1980, and the first individual woman to win gold since another figure skater Jeanette Altweg triumphed in 1952. She will have to get used to being known by a lot more people now.
I quizzed Sir Steve, Britain's most successful Olympian, on his feelings when he won the first of his five gold medals in Los Angeles in 1984.
"Relieved, excited, dumbstruck in some ways," he told me. "You give so much of yourself trying to win a gold medal and you don't think about what happens after. You think, yeah, I'm Olympic champion. Then you think, so what?
"Your emotions are going up and down the whole time. It's so different now to 1984, though, there's so much more attention on athletes than there was then."
Williams's victory also keeps an amazing run going of Britain winning a skeleton medal in every Games in which the sport has featured. David Carnegie won bronze in St Moritz in 1928, John Crammond claimed another bronze, again in St Moritz, in 1948 and Alex Coomber also took bronze at Salt Lake City in 2002, the Olympics that inspired Williams to ditch 400m running and take up skeleton.
Along with Rudman and now Williams, that's not bad for a nation with no skeleton track, barring the University of Bath's push-start facility, where Williams made her first tentative steps in the sport.
The achievement just goes to show that success breeds success, particularly when you are talking about Olympic funding.
Skeleton is the most highly lottery-funded discipline at these Games with a total pot from UK Sport of £2,110,000 out of a total budget of £5,822,000 for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic cycle.
So it's the classic chicken and egg. The more you spend, the better infrastructures you can put in place, the better the results. The whole thing is self-perpetuating.
Because of the way funding is awarded, based on past performance and future potential, skeleton is now likely to get an even bigger slice of the cake for 2014.
But for those in poorly funded sports, the only way to break out of the cycle seems to be to succeed in spite of the system.
Alpine skiing, for example, ignoring the fact that the governing body went bust just before the Games, forcing athletes and coaches to pay training costs out of their own pockets, received £372,000 for the four years up to Vancouver.
Tens of thousands of Britons ski, compared to the handful that compete in skeleton. (Hands up if you are a recreational slider?)
But skiing funding is £20,000 short of beach volleyball in the Summer Games, out of a total budget of £256,588,649 for London 2012.
Skeleton, by the way, gets less than half as much as taekwondo or archery.
Canada invested heavily in all its sports as part of the "Own the Podium" policy - publicly aiming to win more medals than any other country - spending $2.2m (£1.3m) on its skeleton programme in 2009-2010. And its hogging of the track - with 10 times more training runs than anyone other nation - bore fruit after Jon Montgomery won the men's event, with Britain's Kristan Bromley back in sixth and Adam Pengilly 18th.
But it backfired in the women's event and placed enormous pressure on the home athletes as the devastated Hollingsworth showed at the end. Redgrave and Hunt pointed to this afterwards and insisted that some key lessons could be learnt in this area for 2012.
But the last words must go to the winner. When the line "Amy Williams, Olympic champion" was put to her afterwards, she said "I'd never have put those words together in the same sentence."
Well, Amy, I just have and they look pretty good.