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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 19, 2010

Winter Olympics spoiler alert: Women's skeleton final

AP Sports Writer

Article on women's skeleton final.

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Amy Williams’ helmet was bumpy. Her ride to Olympic gold, perfectly smooth.
Williams finished off a surprising 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.
Williams finished four runs at the Whistler Sliding Center in 3 minutes, 35.64 seconds. Germans took silver and bronze, with Kerstin Szymkowiak ending up 0.56 seconds off Williams’ pace and Anja Huber finishing third.
Noelle Pikus-Pace of Eagle Mountain, Utah was fourth in her final race before retirement, missing bronze by a mere 0.10 seconds.
And maybe in the biggest surprise of all, Mellisa Hollingsworth — Canada’s World Cup overall champion and gold-medal favorite — had a disaster-filled bumpy final ride down the track, falling from second to fifth after skidding from one wall to the other.
Hollingsworth managed a smile as she tried to wave a Canadian flag when it was over, unable to believe a medal wasn’t to be in her hands.
Williams? She had the exact opposite reaction.
She’d never before won a race where all the world’s top women’s sliders were competing, her career highlights — until now, anyway — being a silver medal at last year’s world championships and another silver in a World Cup race on this tricky track at the Whistler Sliding Center last season.
Her fast times were the talk of the track. And a bloc of six nations, led by the United States, argued after Thursday’s first two runs of the event that a series of tiny ridges — spoilers, they’re called — across the top of Williams’ helmet gave her an illegal edge, even taking their appeal to the International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing.
The challenge was quickly dismissed — an afterthought now, pushed aside as Williams begins her era as the Olympic champion.
Pikus-Pace is beginning a new era as well.
What it’ll be, she doesn’t know quite yet.
Moments before her final time the track as a competitor, she wore red, white and blue headphones — gold stars over the earpieces — and snapped photos from the start deck, as if she would ever forget any detail of this day.
On the ramp for that last run, though, she was all business.
Looking straight ahead as she snapped her visor into place, U.S. assistant coach Greg Sand clapping his hands behind her and shouting encouragement one final time, Pikus-Pace hopped aboard the sled her husband, Janson, built for this final season.
And 54.07 seconds later, it was over. She came to a stop, stood on the ice and waved.
Waved goodbye, that is, the 2007 world champion’s career ending without the Olympic medal that she spent a decade chasing.
The other American in the field, Katie Uhlaender of Breckenridge, Colo., finished 11th in 3:37.93.
Britain came in hoping for a champion. It probably thought its best chance was Shelley Rudman, the silver medalist in 2006 and this season’s No. 2-ranked woman in the World Cup race.
Instead, it was Williams, from start to finish.
Hollingsworth came into this race as the overwhelming gold medal favorite, for a lot of reasons. She won the overall World Cup title this season, had far more training runs on the Whistler track than any other medal contender, and has been buoyed for the last year by being touted all across Canada as a gold hopeful.
It wasn’t nearly enough.