PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Lizzy Yarnold picked the perfect time to end a three-year winless streak, and extended Britain’s dominance in women’s skeleton in the process.
Yarnold won her second consecutive Olympic women’s skeleton gold medal Saturday, leaving no doubt by setting a track record in the fourth and final heat to beat Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling by nearly a half-second.
Yarnold’s time was 3 minutes, 27.28 seconds. Loelling finished in 3:27.73, and Britain’s Laura Deas was third in 3:27.90. It’s the third time since women’s skeleton was added to the Olympic program in 2002 that a nation grabbed two podium spots; the U.S. won gold and silver in 2002, and Germany took silver and bronze in 2010.
It was the first time Britain had two medalists in the same event at the Winter Olympics. There were two in the same figure skating event in 1908, when that sport was part of the Summer Games.
“I dreamt a couple nights ago that Laura and I were on the podium together,” Yarnold said. “I didn’t tell Laura until just after, because I didn’t want to jinx it.”
It shaped up essentially as a match race going into the final heat, with five women separated by less than one-quarter of a second. But no woman in the field went faster than 51.82 seconds in that fourth run — except Yarnold, who capped her night by crossing the line in 51.46 seconds.
That left Austria’s Janine Flock, the leader after three runs, as the only competitor left who could take away gold. But Flock was only 10th-fastest in the final heat, slipping all the way to fourth.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Yarnold said softly to Flock as they embraced afterward.
The 0.36-second margin of difference over the field in that final heat was massive, compared to the other three heats of the competition.
In Heat 1, Yarnold had the fastest time, 0.08 seconds better than Loelling.
In Heat 2, Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje was fastest, 0.02 seconds better than Deas.
In Heat 3, Germany’s Tina Hermann was fastest, 0.03 seconds better than Yarnold.
Given that, a margin like the one Yarnold had in the finale was nothing short of stunning. It was the largest single-heat margin in women’s Olympic skeleton history, topping the 0.31-second edge Britain’s Amy Williams had over Canada’s Amy Gough in the first heat of the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“Lizzy was really tough and good today,” Loelling said. “I don’t know to slide a 51.46 in the second run. It was really good.”
Williams went on to win gold in 2010, and Yarnold has won the two golds since. Yarnold’s last victory in a major international race was the 2015 world championships and she’s winless in her last 15 World Cup starts — but at the Olympics she was unbeatable, once again.
“Things can go wrong but sport is about believing in yourself and knowing that the Olympics are in February — not in December when I was falling off my sled in Whistler and coming in 23rd,” Yarnold said. “I know the pain of not performing at my best and I didn’t want that to happen again.”
The U.S. struggled, with four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender finishing 13th and Kendall Wesenberg — who had trouble figuring out Curve 2 and lost tons of time in that process — ending her first Olympics in 17th.
Wesenberg was weeping afterward, disappointed by her showing. When she talked about her cheering party, with her family and about 10 friends going wild in the stands, she cheered up immediately.
“I have great support back home and it’s so cool to have them here,” Wesenberg said. “They don’t even know Curve 2’s a thing. They probably think I’m taking home a medal. That side of it is definitely the good part of this, the good takeaway.”