Williams wins Olympic skeleton gold for Britain

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

Spoiled by a spoiler.

Amy Williams finished off a surprising — some protesters 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 agrees.

The International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing said Canada filed a protest after the race about the helmet Williams used. A person familiar with the filing told The Associated Press that it was "more detailed" than the one filed by the United States a day earlier on the same grounds.

"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."

The FIBT was not expected to hear the latest protest until late Friday night, since jury members were also monitoring the final two runs of the men's competition that started shortly after the women's Olympic event concluded.

FIBT spokesman Don Krone said the second protest is expected to be denied.

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. I can't believe it. It's just brilliant."

Pikus-Pace walked off the track for the final time before retirement thinking she missed a medal.

The protests tried to change that.

Williams had never before won a race against all the world's top women sliders. Until now, her career highlights included 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 — exacerbated by the death of a Georgian men's luge athlete in training hours before the opening ceremony — have been constant. The protests say that a series of tiny ridges called spoilers across the top of Williams' helmet gave her an illegal edge.

So for now, Pikus-Pace finished fourth in her final race, missing bronze by a mere 0.10 seconds.

"I knew 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 that."

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

Getting close seemed to serve at least 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."

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

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 goodbye.

The 2007 world champion's career ended without the Olympic medal that she spent a decade chasing.

"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.

Gold-medal favorite Mellisa Hollingsworth of Canada had a troubled final run, falling from second to fifth after twice smacking into walls on the upper half of the course.

"It's heartbreaking," a clearly devastated Hollingsworth said.

Not for Williams.

And not really for Pikus-Pace, either.

"Everybody says your Olympic experience goes by in a blink of an eye," she said. "And so I wanted to remember it and cherish it for the rest of my life."