Amy Williams creates a surprise in Vancouver

Mellisa Hollingsworth got a bigger billing than most in the run-up to the Vancouver Games. The Canadian skeleton supremo appeared on billboards across the country, with the nation’s fans expecting great things from the World Cup leader on her home track.

She faced a strong field though. Great Britain’s Shelley Rudman, a silver medallist four years earlier, looked a strong contender, while Marion Trott had been crowned world champion the previous year, even if her form heading into the Games had tailed off. Little attention was paid to Amy Williams, another British slider, who had never even won a World Cup race and who came to Whistler free of the pressure of expectation.

She did not remain unnoticed for long, leading the field by an impressive 0.31 seconds at the end of the opening run, with Hollingsworth down in fifth and both Trott and Rudman clocking slow times that would end their respective medal challenges.

Though Germany’s Kerstin Szymkowiak was fastest on the second run, Williams was only a tiny fraction slower. And it was in the third run that the British athlete proved her resolve, again going fastest to put herself nearly half a second clear of the field. Hollingsworth finally found her form, going second quickest in the penultimate slide to move into the silver-medal position with one run left. If Williams were to falter, the home fans might yet see a Canadian gold medal.

Unfortunately for them, Hollingsworth could not maintain her charge, recording only the 11th quickest time on run four to drop out of the top three. Williams, meanwhile, played it relatively safe with the fourth fastest run, which proved more than enough to seal Great Britain’s first ever skeleton gold medal and their first individual title since Robin Cousins won the men’s figure skating competition in 1980. Hers was also the first Winter Games gold for a British female athlete since Jeannette Altweg's figure-skating triumph 58 years earlier.

An emotional Hollingsworth later apologised to her fans for her performance, while Williams retired from the sport a couple of years later without adding another title to her Olympic gold, the only major victory of her career.