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Williams in a class of her own

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Rob Hodgetts | 09:06 UK time, Saturday, 20 February 2010

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_getty_595.jpgWilliams 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_595_getty.jpgFans 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well done Amy - a superb effort.

  • Comment number 2.

    Britain can only be competitive in elitist sports that involve equipment and technology ie. money: Rowing, cycling, f1, skeleton.

    Nothing wrong with her individual performance and well done to her, but in sports where all is equal British sportspeople bar very few exceptions have shown over the years to lack the physical ability, intelligence, mental strength or commitment required for success at the highest level.

  • Comment number 3.

    who cares? Britian have always been rubbish at the Olympics

  • Comment number 4.

    And we should be rightly proud of our technological heritage, Britain is a nation of scientists and engineers and this is all part of the sport, see the innovative helmet design and the seeming sour grapes from the other nations who didn't use the rules properly, their fault.

    Anyway well done Amy, I am chuffed to bits and was cheering along last night. We should be proud of her, it doesn't matter that it isn't our national sport, she has excelled at the it and beaten all comers over 4 runs, a truly desrving Olympic champion.

    Skeleton is an intense sport and one I've always faniced having a go at it...but where can we try it? The British Skeleton website is sadly lacking in this regard.

  • Comment number 5.

    Look, if you can't say anything nice, just don't say anything at all. What kind of satisfaction does it give you, logging on here to dismiss the outstanding achievements of a young woman who as worked her backside off to be in this position? Have you ever achieved anything similar? Gold medals don't just fall into people's laps because they are comfortably off (and how do you know what her background is anyway?) It's the same with rowing, which has one of the toughest training regimes out there. People don't become rowing medallists because they're posh - they win medals because they're talented, strong and incredibly dedicated. Go and vent your spleen on the Mail's website - you'll find some people there who agree with you no doubt.

  • Comment number 6.

    Nibs - We've done alright in cricket and rugby in the past if not a little inconsistent (maybe the mental thing you talk about)

    Anyway well done to Amy...yes technology helps but she still has to drive the skeleton and train hard in terms of fitness to build up confidence so congratulations to her.

  • Comment number 7.

    The comments about the helmet giving the rider an unfair advantage may be valid - why not? Like a racing car's spoiler the helmut in this case provides the same effect. The design of the helmet is therefore important in the results of this race (perhaps outweighing the skills of the rider!) - perhaps we should ask if the regulations are up to date with the technology? It may be seen as sour grapes, but it could also be a valid point and we have probably not heard the last of it!

  • Comment number 8.

    Sledger - Sour grapes it most certainly is - perhaps it was gamesmanship to see if being (a) a Brit and therefore (b) not really entitled to win a Winter Olympics event, she could really handle the pressure. Seems she's made of much sterner stuff than the people who complained.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nibs, I do agree with you to an extent. Britain wins sports/events where they pump a lot of money into it and it does seem to be the sitdown sports that we win at where technology i.e not natural ability wins the competition. More so than other countries. It's a shame that we don't do this with all sport. It does seem these elitist sports are getting too much attention. I think this medal should be a wake up call for the government that only through investment do you create winners. Seeing Leslie McKenna embarass herself at the Olympics at the expense of the taxpayer is not good. I don't believe in that 'it's the taking part that counts' rubbish as well. Obviously we are limited at the Winter Olympics because of the lack of good ski slopes etc in the UK but it would be nice to see the UK try to find exceptional British nationals living abroad close to resorts to fund. They just don't do it because they are lazy and funding sports like rowing, cycling and sailing is much easier.
    Well done to Amy though I agree that it takes mental strength to do well in such high pressure situations.
    Also Singh how dare you tell someone to leave the messageboards, they have just as much right to be on here, you intolerant gimboid, shame on you.

  • Comment number 10.

    She's awesomeness personified. Trained hard and held it together for the 2 days. Well worth staying up for to watch a Briton do so well.

    Nibs, go troll somewhere else.

  • Comment number 11.

    Congragulations Amy - a fantastic gold medal! She was superb over the two days and well clear of the rest of the field. It was the 1st and 3rd runs that did the damage. Let's hope this gives a real boost to the British team, and we can win more medals!

    With regard to the helmet complaint, I really think it is sour grapes and totally unjustified. The Americans complained which I accept, since they believed that there was an unfair advantage, but that was rejected. So why did Canada launch the same protest? Surely, once it has been declared legal, other protests regarding that decision are ridiculous. Canada are just bitter that their girl Hollingsworth didn't deliver the goods, and even had Williams been DQ, Hollingsworth wouldn't have medalled. I would have sort of understood if the Germans protested. Britain didn't launch an official complaint after the shocking DQ of Lindsay in the speed skating, where there was a genuine cause for complaint with the Canadian girl, at least partly to blame for the fall in that race. But the Canadians have shown that they are nothing but sore losers.

    Anyway, back on the real story, Congrats Amy, let's hope this is the first of many!

  • Comment number 12.

    Do you honestly think other nations just pick up athletes from thin air and provide them with no funding and still get results?
    ALL nations invest HUGE amounts into their athletes, whether directly with tax money into their hand / building training centres or indirectly by allowing their athletes to sell themselves out to sponsors.
    In winter events our athletes have neither, they need to spend far more money than their counterparts to fly somewhere to access proper training facilities, they cant just hop on the train or bus and head to a local one.

    We are also limited in a number of other ways, our population is a fraction of the likes of the US, this coupled with the fact that our national sports, football, rugby and cricket all generally get first pick of the best athletes (theres money to be made being a footballer and cricketer...whoda thunk that would attract people) means that athletics and to a far greater extent winter events are left with a far smaller pot to choose from.

  • Comment number 13.

    Nibs that just simply isn't true. Boxing is probably the most primal of sports and yet Britain has(another) world heavyweight champion as well as in recent years success in a number of weight catagories (tell Joe Calzaghe that he is weak mentally). The world's 3rd best Tennis player, a number of its best golfers and footballers, women's marathon world record holder, I could go on.

    I would argue that Britain punches above its weight on average sports-wise even taking into account population size, wealth and government support to sporting programmes. The thing is we compete in many sports with Australia and I would say they punch even more above their weight.

    To the skeleton which is why we are reading this surely; it is a smaller sport (hence someone can take it up only a few years before competing at the Olympics) but I barely care - it is amazing fun to watch and Amy Williams permored with exceptional mental strength to come out and hit a course record on her 3rd run and intelligence on her last to steer a solid race and get that gold. Well done to her.

    And as an engineer, if that hemet helped then that helps make me proud of British engineering! But I doubt it made a crucial difference as the other Brit sliders didn't run above expectations and it seems it was Amy's massive starting that played the biggest role.

  • Comment number 14.

    Nibs- I never realised that Rowing was such a technological sport. I thought it was down to sheer hard work and great physical effort.
    As for Amy, what a great result and achievement particularly bearing in mind how many practice runs the Canadian had compared to the rest of the field.
    The helmet was ruled legal by the governing body, this was examined by them a few days before the comp started so why didn't teams complain then. It's pure sour grapes and just trying to detract from a great performance where the rest of the field have been beaten by a significant margin.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well done to Amy, hopefully the woman curlers can make it a golden double for the UK.

    I've heard a few mentions of protests about Amy's helmet, can anyone provide a link to more information, I'm intrigued to see what the differences are between her helmet and everyone elses?

  • Comment number 16.

    Congratulations to Amy! Awesome effort, never looked like doing anything except winning, which, as Rob pointed out, is pretty unusual for a British athlete! Made all the more impressive by the fact that we don't actually have a proper bob/skeleton/luge track here in the UK. Maybe something we should think about getting - it looks fun!

    Just wanted to mention that her dad is actually Ian, not David - he taught me quite a lot of what I know about Chemistry.

  • Comment number 17.

    I am stunned by the bitterness of the Canadian protests!

    Why, other than from pure jealousy, would you protest when even success with that protest would not win you anything? Why not just accept that your athlete was overwhelmed by the occasion and failed to perform while Amy Williams excelled at every turn?

    Mind you, it's probably no more than we should expect from the country who celebrated "Canadian" Ben Johnson's 100m Gold one day and then slated "Jamaican" Drug Cheat Ben Johnson the next!

  • Comment number 18.

    Well done Amy Williams! It was so worth staying up late to watch last night, even though I was fighting the urge to sleep with my laptop on me knees. Even if GB come home with just this gold medel, we can at least hold our heads up high and say "we won gold." I know we are bound for more gold medels to come (hopefully!) but at least we can say we are not going to come home empty handed.

  • Comment number 19.

    Fantastically well done to Amy, a thoroughly well deserved gold medal. Without wishing to criticise the facilities at Bath University, which have certainly helped Amy and others in the close season , clearly British competition at the Skelteon bob are at a massive disadvantage to those where they have a multitude of real tracks.

    Over many years, Britain struggled at the Olympics as our facilities and monies invested were not as great as other countries. Now we are getting the facilities and monies invested to allow people to be professional athletes, results are improving.

    In the same way that Australia has done well for many years, because of their investment in their athletes and facilities.

    Also good to see Norway having a much better Olympics, hopefully the gold meal rush will continue for the final week.

  • Comment number 20.

    Well done Amy! A terriffic result. Just don't let the Politicians steal your thunder.

  • Comment number 21.

    Congratulations to Amy! I missed the final run after an epic battle with my eyelids, but was delighted to find she'd held out to win.

    To all the helmet complainants - Its not often the British get to celebrate a gold medal victory at the winter olympics, so lets enjoy it. Its amazing how people can be so negative.

  • Comment number 22.

    Oi guys don't feed the troll.

    Well done Amy!

  • Comment number 23.

    Considering that the Canadians had ten times the amount of training runs compared to the rest of the field it seems strange that they should be the ones protesting over unfairness concerning Amy's helmet after the race.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hang on, Brits. How can you be congratulating Amy for winning gold on the very killer track you and your media have been hyper-critical of for the last week? Seems a bit hypocritical. Or is this an attempt to balance your media coverage?

  • Comment number 25.

    highthief - the British media weren't criticising the track because it was too fast to be fair to British sliders, they were criticising the track because a Georgian died on it.

  • Comment number 26.

    The British media has been criticising the track (and everything else west of Cornwall) for being too dangerous and fast. But now it's great and they want to import it to Bath.

    As for the protest over a piece of kit - people may think it is "sour grapes" (notwithstanding that a Canadian male sledder got DQed for a minor technical violation and we're not moaning about it) but this is a very technical sport, like autoracing. Everything has to be on an even footing.

    Personally, I congratulate Amy on winning. Fair play to her. But the British media need to recognize their position is becoming increasingly ridiculous when it comes to the Games.

  • Comment number 27.

    A most un-British triumph kill em out of the blocks and shut the door in the 3rd run. Never once taking the foot off the throat.

    No dramas no tantrums no under-dogism no relying on braver opponents to choke. No trying to take the pressure off. Just competing. Just winning.

    I could get used to more performers like 11 footballers and 15 rugby players who want to win and are not worried about clearly trying to. Not worried about being favoured to win and staying that way. People who get the lead and close the door.

    It's almost laughable all that Lions (lazy killers who let the women do all the hard work) and Bulldogs (useless inbred dogs!) stuff but Williams displayed it, true competitive nature. Un-fazed by it all. Go Girl.

  • Comment number 28.

    BTW it's not the same track and not the same sport. If Vancouver's organisers genuinely believed this was a safe track why change it and neuter the luge events to non events that favoured people with strong arms? This was Skeleton as well a different set of dangers.

    Yes the British media like to know 1 or 2 facts and smear the whole of a group or organisation or event - see politics and Climate Change. It's a tabloid mentality which all our tabloids have (all our newspapers are now tabloids btw no such thing as quality newspapers).

    Canada is right our media is risible re-active and lacks perspective and does not even try to have perspective. However a Gold medal in a different sport does not change 2 things: The Luge course was deadly and obviously so: The Luge competition was ruined as a result.

  • Comment number 29.

    So having claimed for months on end that the Canadians are monopolising the track, no Canadians finish in the top 3 and one of the chief moaners ends up with gold. How hilarious.

    But it doesn't stop there. In spite of this, Kristan Bromley blames his failure to medal on the fact he couldm't compete with the starts by the Russian and Latvian, but the only reason he couldn't compete with the Canadian gold medalist was lack of track time.

    Oddly enough, we've now held five events on this 'monopolised' track. The number of Canadian medals in these five events? One. The simple fact is the skeleton team Lindsey Vonn'd this event, coming in with excuses ready-made for if they lost.

    On top of that, as was just mentioned, the same track that you British claimed was dangerous and blamed for the death of a luger you now want to bring to Britain. Hardly a word mentioned about how the vast majority of fellow athletes and nearly every luge expert in the world said it was driver error. Not to mention the fact he'd had 30 practice runs without incident prior to the accident.

    Canada had a guy DQ'd and your ticker had a wee blurb that essentially amounted to 'tough, it's a very technical sport'. Then the Brits have a protest lodged against them and suddenly Canada are even more horrible. You guys really need to change the record.

  • Comment number 30.

    #12 Tell me how much investment did Jamaica put into Usain Bolt?
    Answer not a lot...he's just blessed with natural talent. It's time we stopped giving the vast majority of funding to these sitdown sports.

  • Comment number 31.


    "As for the protest over a piece of kit - people may think it is "sour grapes" (notwithstanding that a Canadian male sledder got DQed for a minor technical violation and we're not moaning about it) but this is a very technical sport, like autoracing."

    That may have something to do with the fact that your no.1 rider had just won the gold the medal, and Michael Douglas was never seriously within reach of a medal before his DQ. If the DQ'd rider had of been Jon Montgomery, your media would be have been all over it like a fly dog crap, like ours has regarding the protest.

    The helmet had been passed for inspection before the Olympics in Vancouver had even began; a first protest was thrown out after the from 5/6 different federations, yet the Canadians still feel the need to protest. What exactly were they hoping to achieve : realistically?

    Ultimately you can't win with some of the GBP. If we don't do well in any sport it's down to lack of funding and more money should be pumped in to breed success regardless of the event, and if we do actually manage to find ourselves an Olympic Champion through funding or otherwise, they bemoan the sport the athlete just got the big G in.

  • Comment number 32.

    Congratulations to Amy!!! Anyone who flies down the skeleton deserves a prize, in general. It looks terrifying, really. But Amy was the fastest and did a great job. Great Britain will be celebrating for days. :)

    As for the helmet issue, if the Olympic Committee approved it, then it is approved. Although likely her helmet design could have shaved off her time, it is up to the Olympic Committee to allow it or not. Since they did say her helmet was approved, I do not see that as cheating at all. But people will always double-check, that is the Olympics way.

    In the future, there will likely be many new designs added to these hats, so the Olympic Committee needs to decide what designs are/are not allowed, so there is no miscommunication or bad feelings.

    Altogether, Amy deserved her prize! A job well done by the British!

  • Comment number 33.

    Anyway, let's just celebrate another Winter Olympic gold medal. We don't get many. Well Done Amy on a superb quartert of performances over the 2 days. Fully Deserved!!

  • Comment number 34.

    I must admit, it was very un-British of Amy to *not* put us through the ringer; she trashed the track and the opposition in a dominant performance. Stunning stuff.

  • Comment number 35.

    If it's any comfort to the Canadians here I expect our tabloid media to whine and complain even more loudly about cost, organization, and facilities come 2012, it's what they do best.

  • Comment number 36.

    The track was rightly criticised as being unsafe. Since when should a technical error mean death in any sport?

    The track was rightly changed, and then hopefully became what could be described as a fast but safer track. So, doesn't seem hypocritical to no longer question the track if it had been changed to be safer.

    Unfortunately for Melissa Hollingsworth, she made some technical errors in her final run. In the context of other technical errors made in the previous version of the track, coming 5th in the Olympics is a correct outcome, rather than any life-threatening scenarios.

    As for the helmet issue - the Canadian appeal is ludicrous, especially as the USA had already submitted an unsuccessful appeal a day earlier, and the helmet had been inspected and approved prior to the contest.

    In an interview after the contest a tearful Hollingsworth apologised for letting her country down, and mentioned the 'own the podium' element in the same sentence. It seems as if the Canadian athletes were put under that bit more pressure , in addtion to it being a home event.

    Amy Williams won silver medal at last year's world championship at Lake Placid, and finished in the top 6 in 7 of the 8 major races last year, so it is not as if she came from nowhere to claim gold. Bravo Amy!

  • Comment number 37.

    What a shame, that all the effort, dedication & bravery that earned Amy an Olympic Gold, provided the platform for all this racist bitterness & backbiting.
    The very nature of a WINTER Olympics, means that everyone relies on some level of technology, sorry to those purists who can only respect running, jumping, swimming & boxing. That in itself does not mean it is elitist. We are however used to the anti-Brit rants, it's been the same ever since our longbows proved technically superior at Agincourt.
    CONGRATULATIONS the Olympic spirit.

  • Comment number 38.

    I don't know the nationality of posters #2 & #3, but I find that some Brits seem to think that criticising/mocking their own country makes them intellectually superior in some way. Up until recently UK athletes were completely amateur. While US athletes had college sports scholarships, USSR/Eastern block athletes were all in the red army & Japanese athletes 'worked' for major Japanese companies, Brendan Foster had to pay to train at his local athletics track! The UK consistently punches above its weight at the Olympics, and contrary to popular myth, we are very good at organising major sporting events (The Open; Wimbledon; 1948 Olympics; 1966 World Cup; Euro'96; Manchester 2002). As for sport being elitist, maybe that's because private schools still recognise the benefits of sport in terms of aspiration and character building, while the state education system encourages the pursuit of mediocrity through 'non - competitive sport'.
    Poster #17 I consider Andy Murray to be British when he wins and Scottish, when he loses. Anyway, can we please stop bickering with our Canadian cousins? We would have lost WWII in 1940 without them.

  • Comment number 39.

    I watched the skiing, alpine and cross country but no i missed the sliding on a baking tray thing. Almost as silly as the sweeping up ice thing that we seem quite good at.
    And before any one says anything, yes the sliding business does take a lot of guts but then again so does jumping out in front of a bus but i assume it will not become an olympic sport.

  • Comment number 40.

    "Elitist sports" "Technology" ... are you being serious?

    Cycling is a sport accessible to nearly everyone regardless of money and the success which GB has had is nothing to do with the "silver spoon" brigade or technology ... just hard work and increased funding to the sport. Athletics - were Coe, Ovett, Cram, Holmes, Thomson, Christie etc blessed with technology and money. Certainly not, just talent and hard work.

    As for the idea that we are only good at sport "sitting down", I wonder if you have actually even thought about it. Sport in Britian is under funded and the British Ski Team is a classic example of that. To have Chemmy Alcott competing in 4 ski events as the "one woman" ski team is crazy. Skiing is a huge sport for the British and yet the funding is laughable. Provision of funding based upon success is tiny minded ... there will no doubt be some truly great British Skiiers who are undiscovered due to the lack of development infrastructure within the sport. Instead, our ski team is left to beg for sponsorship or dig deep into their own pockets ... given this adversity, the GB ski team actually punches above its weight.

    It's time we got our finger out ... how about a windfall tax on bankers for the next winter olympics. 1% should do it!

  • Comment number 41.

    Well done Amy. I find it odd that her helmet was subjected to two complaints. The first I can understand; however the second seemed like foot-stamping poutyness.

    Intuitive application of technical statues is part of any sport and providing you're application is within the rules then you've done nothing wrong. It appears to me that the primarily objection was that they'd not thought of it first. If it truly made the difference, I'll bet every complainant is wearing a similar lid the next time they compete.

    Every sports equipment manufacturer tries to push the boundaries and these innovations, where legal, should be welcomed. That said, I fail to see how her helmet design was responsible for her blistering starts and I feel credit should be accorded her for four solid performances.

    In the end, it is a shame that she didn't lend her helmet to the other competitors so that they could see first hand that it wasn't just equipment that set her apart.

  • Comment number 42.

    What is wrong with some of the British public? Why do Britain bother sending teams to the Olympics and funding athlethes when it's always a Lose-lose situation with regard to public opinion? If Britain do badly, then we get all the "waste of money", "embarrasing", "typical British incompetence" complaints, which to be fair I agree with. But when Britain do well, we get other critics saying "we only do well cos we throw money", we're "elitist" blah blah blah.

    Why can't we just congratulate our Olympians when they do well! It's not easy to win Olympic golds or a medal of any colour at an Olympic games, yet we always seem to have criticisms. When Britain did fantastically at Beijing to finish 4th - everyone went on about how we are only good in "sit-down elitist" sports like cycling, rowing, equestrian, sailing blah blah blah. But cycling and rowing is just as demanding physically as swimming or athletics is! And what is so elitist about sports like cycling - all you need is a bike and a helmet - not too hard is it! Yes we spend a lot of money but so do other countries - do you think the French or the Italians or the Germans or other similar countries in terms of population and money enjoy success without spending? With regard to the Winter Olympics, we need the funding cos we don't have the facilities and have to go abroad for skiing slopes, sliding tracks etc. In the skeleton, we have medals in each of the last three games, this year we had 2 athletes in the top 6 of the women's skeleton, and one athlete in top 6 of men's skeleton more than Canada, who despite their own the podium policy had only 1 athlete in the top 6 of each of the men's and women's skeletons - and we are a nation with NO SLIDING TRACK! Come on people, let's give our athletes the credit they deserve when they are successful instead of all this "we only win cos it's an elitist sport" rubbish.

  • Comment number 43.

    If we want raise more money for winter sports how about a windfall tax on Premier league footballers? Some individual players are on more per annum than the £5.8 million spent preparing our athletes for Vancouver.

  • Comment number 44.

    #36 - "The track was rightly criticised as being unsafe. Since when should a technical error mean death in any sport?"

    Any sport involving the sorts of speeds involved here (even on slower tracks), with very little protection possible, is always going to have that risk. It can only ever be reduced, not eliminated - there's always the danger of really bad luck. It's the same with all forms of motor racing, but that doesn't seem to attract the same sort of complaints.

    Anyway, why can't we stop all the complaining and simply congratulate Amy Williams on an outstanding performance?

  • Comment number 45.


    "Nothing wrong with her individual performance and well done to her, but in sports where all is equal British sportspeople bar very few exceptions have shown over the years to lack the physical ability, intelligence, mental strength or commitment required for success at the highest level."

    Yes, but look back over the past few years at how many of those 'performance' events have been tarnished by drug taking. Tour de France, Olympic sprint champions being stripped of medals, etc.

    If we are going to apply scientific minds and money to helping our athletes, then better we do it cleanly and legally with good equipment than by creating undetectable super steroids.

    We might simply be more honest than most of the world.

  • Comment number 46.

    Well done! Why are we so good at this in England? Is it going downstairs on a tray that sows the seed......

  • Comment number 47.

    I was there, right at the finish line and going just a little bit crazy when she crossed in first place! Amazing achievement considering the lack of track in the UK.

    Amy, you made us proud to be British.

  • Comment number 48.

    The helmet complaints *were* spoiling tactics/sour grapes.
    The helmet didn't help her get the second best overall start times (behind Uhlaender, who has no sliding technique), the drag on your helmet at the start as your run and push is irrelevant.
    Well worth staying up for :o)

  • Comment number 49.

    Amy seemed consistently fast at the start and then very smooth and quiet on the slide. I heard that she spend a lot of time working on starting power and being warm at the start - didnt she have on some space age looking suits just before starting? Sounds like good old commonsense ingenuity to me - be fast be warm start well!

  • Comment number 50.

    well done AMY we watched on the big screen in Vancouver. we live here now so it was great to see a brit win and the small contingent celebrate. Well done super effort EH!

  • Comment number 51.

    Thanks for mentioning the funding situation! It would be nice for skiing to get more funding, but to say that skeleton is getting too much funding is ridiculous seeing as there isnt even a single skeleton track in Britain.

    "Skeleton, by the way, gets less than half as much as taekwondo or archery."

    Well said! In the past two summer games (04 & 08), Britain has got one bronze in taekwando (Sarah Stevenson) and one bronze in archery (Alison Williamson). While in the past two winter games, skeleton has got a gold and a silver.

    I suppose I must mention, in fairness, how close Laurence Godfrey came to getting to getting a bronze in 2004, but archery isn't horseshoes or hand grenades.

    Point is, there's no way one can accuse the skeleton-ers of getting too much funding.

    That said, it would be good for other winter sports to get more funding. Especially since there are fewer competitors per medal in winter sports as compared to summer.

    Alas, it would be un-British to cheer for a winner, especially one that didn't get nervous.

    Good luck with the art gallery in the future Amy! (Preferably way in the future - don't retire just yet - you've got a title to defend in Sochi!)

  • Comment number 52.

    Post 44.

    The death occurred in one of the more dangerous parts of the course - where there just happened to be some unpadded metal poles that he crashed into!

    Of course accidents happen in such a high-risk sport. In this sport, the risk to physical well-being heightens considerably if the athlete falls off the track. The track ought to be designed to prevent that.

    The course was altered to heighten the bend to prevent athletes from doing so. However, the governing body pointed out that it was the fault of the athlete that he died, and not a fault with the course. And yet they had unpadded metal poles next to a fast bend, which was made dangerous by the fact that it wasn't high enough.

    So was it really bad luck that he managed to hit a metal pole next to a dangerous bend that wasn't high enough? Really?

    Yes, there can be 'bad luck' but basic safety precautions, should have been taken. The heightening of the wall - which they havce now done - was the key. And even then they gave the reason for this as addressing the 'emotional component' of the games. Unbelievable.

    Also, you mentioned the example of motor racing - well, these days, they take the precautions that the luge was too late in taking, this time.

  • Comment number 53.

    Miss Amy Williams has the great satisfaction of, despite objections from a number of overseas federations, despite the attempts of fellow competitors, dispute the weather, the track, the design of the board etc won a gold medal.
    Regardless of number or lack of previous brit winners, regardless of the lack of facilities and investment Amy Williams has won.
    The Brits are competing in the Winter Olympics, a totally alien conception given the Brit Winters and abysmal lack of funding.
    The young lady has won, not because of everything in her favour but in spite of all the hazards, lack of funding, the lack of facilities.. to be able to do that speaks volumes of the person and the attitude.
    The outcry regarding the aerodynamic improvements on her helmet, ROFL... what a stroke of genius, the mind games, the look what you haven't got, I'm a winner .. a number of flutes measuring approx 25mm and protruding approx .75mm would have such an effect on her opponents.. We can't go as fast because of her helmet. Wonderful.
    In her interviews, nothing about the late nights, the lenght of time, the physical pain, the ;ack of friends or relationships in pursuit of her chosen sport.. No, just 'Speed is your friend' and well, I just had to do it attitude.

    Truly wonderful brit.

    Oh, those Canadians gripping about press comments, well aren't you now doing exactly the same thing. Carping and Moaning about the Brits,

    Get real, Get a life.

  • Comment number 54.

    Well done Amy for all the right reasons. Well done Vancouver for a great show.

    Nibs and others seem to have the British disease. Symptoms: carping, sniping and envy. Britain doesn't excel at Olympics because it is neither a sports fanatic nation (Australia), a huge country with huge resources (USA), nor a winter country (Austria). Nor does it have a statist obsession with success (China). So it fits in that group of medium size countries which choose not to spend so much money and seem curiously ill at ease with all out efforts (who could see "own the podium" succeeding in England?).
    That's why we tend to excel in specialist (not elitist) sports which are less global (rowing), tend to require less childhood/teen preparation (skeleton), or where we have a local advantage/tradition (equestrian, sailing). Not to say that we don't have some great athletes in the other sports. It's not laziness, it's a lack of national obsession and single mindedness. Same goes for football, rugby and cricket. In the end we seem to prefer or take refuge in amateurism (again not a comment about the athletes and their coaches who are as committed as all the competitors).

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 56.

    Um, am I missing something here? Have UK Sport really spent 40% of our budget on the Skeleton Bob?

    "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."

    Don't get me wrong - I stayed up last night to watch it, and well done Amy. But it seems crazy to invest so much into such a niche sport, which has to be to the detriment of other sports. Or have I had one beer too many....

  • Comment number 57.

    can anyone remember last years winner? enough said.

  • Comment number 58.

    Nice writing - made me smile, but more importantly, now I'm interested in skeleton sliding - well done Amy - simply brilliant!

  • Comment number 59.

    Hogging the track? Please! Why would Canada give any country more practice then the IOC requires and which it did by the way? It's our track. Our tax dollars paid for it. Build your own track. With your tax money. Absolutely ludicrous to assume otherwise.

  • Comment number 60.

    So your country got your medal. Great job. Now your writers, with something to write about, can emerge from the pub and start enjoying the games. Guys, while you were so busy whining and sneering about the "glitch games", you missed half the party.

    There are 150,000 people in the street here enjoying themselves. Write about that too.

  • Comment number 61.

    BBC, you forgot to tell us one little thing. What IS a winter sports 'skeleton'? What do the competitors actually do?

  • Comment number 62.

    #60, bc_fella, keep enjoying the party, and stop whining about your own country whining about the UK's media coverage! Seriously, chill out, for the most part the UK public is enjoying the Vancouver Olympics.

    A few stories about 'glitches' are only a very small part of it, there's not been a huge focus on the negatives, the UK media just hasn't glossed over it. But on the whole, we're watching on enjoying the occassion just like everyone else.

    Canada's 'Own the podium' thing seems a bit off, but I'm still enjoying the times when the home crowd goes mad for a Canadian success. It's fun and I'm thoroughly enjoying it all so far.

  • Comment number 63.

    wal1000 - how ironic that you would vent as other whinging poms have during these games. Why so few reasoned insights from a great country that knows how hard it is to succeed at an elite level in sport, and fail as in cricket, football, rugby, olympics? As a brit here soaking up the atmosphere you are so far of the mark about sore Canadian losers - these are gracious people who are waking up to the idea that winning is ok along with some well earned national pride. Not unlike GB during Beijing. So I think you'd be better off seeking understanding and then watch, really carefully, when you hear a brit, whinging about how unfair the others were as sadly, the brits and especially our gutter press, have added to the whinging-pom stereotype.
    Here's to Sochi where Amy can do it again...

  • Comment number 64.

    Chuckle from an Ozzie journalist here, i think on the backs of a wry comment made during the Beijing games - "Great win for the Uk slider, good girl and nice to see the poms winning a medal lying down. They won loads sitting down in the summer."

  • Comment number 65.

    'Hogging the track? Please! Why would Canada give any country more practice then the IOC requires and which it did by the way? It's our track. Our tax dollars paid for it. Build your own track. With your tax money. Absolutely ludicrous to assume otherwise.'

    Fine, so when we give British teams twice as much access to 2012 facilities, please don't whinge when your athletes get less time. Afterall my tax payers money will have paid for the facilities.

  • Comment number 66.

    'wal1000 - how ironic that you would vent as other whinging poms have during these games. Why so few reasoned insights from a great country that knows how hard it is to succeed at an elite level in sport, and fail as in cricket, football, rugby, olympics?'

    Maybe your time away from the UK has not yet registered with you, but since Sydney in 2000, we have been tearing up Olympic medals table (4th in Beijing thank you), won a rugby world cup in 2003, reached the final in 2007 and won two ashes series.

    Actually Britain has gotten quite good at sport recently.

  • Comment number 67.

    Fantastic stuff - as an ex-pat living in the US, all I get on TV is the Lindsay Vonn coverage so I have to come to the BBC to find out what is really happening.
    BTW - you can do skeleton as a tourist at Lake Placid (about 4 hours north of New York City and well worth a visit). I went down their bob sleigh track recently (with a professional driver and brake-man) and it was excellent.

  • Comment number 68.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 69.

    #56- Is that really true 40% of the budget was spent on Skeleton. That just goes to show how much of a joke it all is. The nearest place I can try out Skeleton is over 100 miles away. Why should such a niche sport get so much funding when we shut down gymnasiums and running tracks all over the country?
    It just goes to show the UK would rather pump money into tech heavy sports than providing track and field athletes with a full time salary.
    I'm sorry but the GB Olympic committee really needs to take a hard look at itself.

  • Comment number 70.

    My god most of the above comments are based on what you have read in the British press, which most of you deride at other times. So why believe it now!! Some other comments are based on what has been read in the Canadian press!! but not but not the comments of most Canadian people. We were at the medal ceremony for Amy and the Canadians sang our anthem with us and congratulated us Brits she won that gold medal with support physical,financial and a whole lot of training & dedication so Celebrate it.
    P.S. Newspapers are only good for fish & chips!! you know that

  • Comment number 71.

    I haven't read every single one of the comments but of the few I have, I am surprised and quite honestly saddened at the number of negative ones! Can't we just be pleased for an individual who was totally deserving of this medal and who seems totally humble to have received it. The fact that she was a Brit is just a bonus - well done Amy and roll on 2014 for the next one! And to all those who have nothing nice to say or who can only find something to pick at - remember that life is too short to always be finding something to complain about!

  • Comment number 72.

    I think Amy Williams has done us proud with her Olympic gold medal. It’s not easy to get the funding to train and compete at the highest level but Amy has done it. I hope to complete in the Olympics one day as I have just got funding from a athletic scholarships program to do gymnastics in the USA.

  • Comment number 73.

    Amy William can stand tall. Excellent example, i'm also hoping to one day compete in the winter games, or maybe even the 2016 Olympics.


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