Gale force storms to gold

Skeleton athlete Tristan Gale did not have much experience on the world stage. She only had one full season of World Cup competition behind her, and she had finished tenth in the standings. Few considered her a real contender going into the 2002 Games, but she had one great advantage: she knew the Salt Lake City track better than anyone else.

Gale had lived in Salt Lake City since the age of nine and it was on the local track that she got her first taste of skeleton. That familiarity elevated her from being an also-ran to one of the favourites, and her natural confidence and energy gave her the appearance of a champion in the making. Nonetheless, her compatriot Lea Ann Parsley, who also happened to be her best friend, was considered a far likelier prospect for gold.

Parsley wasn't just a great athlete; she had also been a full-time firefighter for 17 years, and had once been awarded the accolade of bravest firefighter in the state of Ohio, after she saved the life of a mother and daughter from a blaze. So it was fair to say that the pressure of competing on the Olympic stage was not a daunting one for her.

Gale had put red, white and blue streaks into her hair to celebrate her participation at these Games but once the action started, it was clear that the 21-year-old was not just there to enjoy the atmosphere. Using her intimate knowledge of the twists and turns of the Salt Lake City track, she was quickest in the first run, but Parsley was a mere 0.01 seconds behind.

With the top two separated by such a tiny margin, the second run was likely to decide the direction of the gold medal. Switzerland’s Maya Pedersen actually went quickest, but Gale was second fastest and that was enough to clinch the gold. Parsley finished 0.1 seconds behind her, with Great Britain's Alex Coomber taking bronze after finishing third in both runs.