Gold medal showings drip with drama
WHISTLER, B.C. -- With protests in one race and an epic comeback in the other, Amy Williams and Jon Montgomery certainly endured more than enough drama on the way to becoming Olympic skeleton gold medalists on Friday night.
Williams finished off a surprising -- and some protesting nations said tainted -- run to the women's skeleton title at the Vancouver Games, giving Britain its first individual Winter Olympics title since figure skater Robin Cousins prevailed at Lake Placid in 1980. To do that, Williams had to overcome two protests in as many days over her aerodynamic helmet.
For his part, Montgomery came through with what the home Canadian fans wanted to see, catching Latvia's Martins Dukurs in the final run for the men's crown.
"What I was feeling," Montgomery said, "was what I was hoping for."
Williams had to wait to find out if her gold would stand. The International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing denied two protests -- from Canada and the United States claiming her helmet was not compliant with FIBT rules regarding aerodynamics.
"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 finishing 0.56 seconds off Williams's pace and Anja Huber 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 after the death of a men's luger hours before opening ceremonies.
The protests all pointed to a rule stating 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's headgear and found "the spoilers are an integral 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."
No protests were required in the men's race. Dukurs was the best in the world all season and held the lead with one run to go in the men's final. Montgomery went next-to-last, then stood at the finish area and watched on televisions to see if his sizzling last run was enough.
Barely, it was -- 0.07 of a second was the difference. Russia's Alexander Tretyakov won the bronze.
"I'm a little bit disappointed with the last run, but not disappointed about the result," Dukurs said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continued waiting for its first sliding medal at these Olympics, after luge and skeleton failed to deliver. Noelle Pikus-Pace and Zach Lund came close, though.
Dubbed "the heartbreak kids" four years ago after both missed the Turin Games, Pikus-Pace and Lund fell just short in their quests to reach the medal stand. Pikus-Pace -- who missed 2006 with a broken leg after a bobsled crashed into her in a freak training accident -- was fourth in her final race before retirement, missing bronze by 0.10 seconds.
Befure her race, 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."
Lund, who was booted from Turin just before the Olympics opened over a positive drug test that was proven two years later to be absolutely meaningless, finished fifth in the men's competition.
"It was a long, long hard journey," Lund said. "Sometimes I didn't think it was worth it. It was worth it."