ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Ice cool Lizzy Yarnold won Britain’s first gold medal at the Sochi Games on Friday when she powered to victory in the women’s skeleton, continuing her nation’s fine tradition in the event.
Yarnold, 25, emulated compatriot and 2010 champion Amy Williams, sliding quickest throughout the four-heat competition.
She took victory by 0.97 seconds, ahead of American Noelle Pikus-Pace, securing a silver in the final slide of her career, with Russian Elena Nikitina third.
Draped with a Britain’s Union Jack flag around her shoulders, Yarnold, who won her first World Cup title this season, was embraced by her coach and then team mate Shelley Rudman before crossing the track to celebrate with her family.
“I just really enjoyed it, it was a little bit messy, but I just let the sled run as much as I could, pick up as much speed, and I just loved it,” she said of her final run.
“I‘m sure it won’t sink in for another few days, I‘m just over the moon. I‘m just so proud that I put in all the work for the past five years and it’s all worked out.”
With the Sanki track riding faster, a confident Yarnold built on her opening day advantage by setting a venue record with her first slide on Friday and despite the odd bump, eased to victory on her final run.
British women have won skeleton medals at every Games since their event was introduced to the Olympic program in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Commentating for the BBC, the now retired Williams hailed her friend and protege, who she rents a flat to in the English city of Bath, saying: ”Awesome work by Lizzy Yarnold. I am so proud of her.
“She had such a big margin, no-one was going to take it away from her. She panicked a bit with the mistake at the top, but she did not drop that much time.”
Pikus-Pace, who cried tears of joy at the flower ceremony after the race, came into the Olympics as Yarnold’s main rival but could not find the speed to challenge the Briton.
The American’s emotions reflected her reaching the Olympic podium for the first time.
The 31-year-old, who came out of retirement in 2012, missed the 2006 Games when, ranked number one in the world, she broke her right leg after being hit by bobsleigh.
She then finished fourth at the Vancouver Games four years later, missing a medal by a tenth of a second.
“I remember a blink of an eye ago I was in Vancouver finishing fourth and now here I am with the silver medal,” she said.
”I’ve been hit by a bobsleigh, missed an Olympics. There have been a lot of trials that have led up to this moment.
“I stood up there knowing this was the last run of my career and I just tried to have fun with it.”
Pikus-Pace’s preparations in Sochi - she took the minimal amount of training runs - were affected by concussion-like symptoms she continued to feel from a training crash last month.
“I couldn’t see clearly, I had blurred vision on Wednesday,” she said. “For medical reasons I could not take those runs.”
An MRI scan gave her the all-clear to race and she felt “safe and confident going down the track.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford