By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 20 - Amy Williams (pictured) has received the gold medal for her brilliant victory in the bob skeleton here last night which ended Britain's 30-year wait for an individual champion in the Winter Olympics.

The 27-year-old from Bath, whose controversial victory was only confirmed five hours after she crossed the line following a series of protests about the legality of her crash helmet, was a picture of happiness as she received her medal from Sir Craig Reedie, one of Britain's three International Olympic Committee members, at a ceremony in Whistler.

Afterwards she threw her bouquet into the crowd and waved at friends and family - including parents Jan and Ian - who were watching and cheering.

She is Britain's first individual gold medallist at the Winter Olympics since ice skater Robin Cousins, who triumphed at Lake Placid in 1980.

Her performance attracted praise from the sporting world and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who hailed her win as a "major achievement".

The Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said: "The first British individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics for 30 years is an outstanding achievement for Amy Williams, Team GB, and all those in her sport and behind the scenes who have contributed to the win.

"In the dark and chilly days of a British winter, this is a big ray of sunshine.

"I hope it will inspire many young men and women to want to follow her example and aim to become Olympic stars of the future.

"Lottery funding, and the backing of UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport, has been a big factor in Amy's win and I hope this fantastic result will encourage more people to have a go at winter sports."

Williams is now among the bookies' favourites to claim the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Andreas Schmid, the performance director of Britain's skeleton team, praised Williams' ability to cope with pressure and her response when her rivals posted fast times on the fourth and final run.

He said: "Everybody can imagine the Olympic Winter Games is very different to everything you do in your life.

"The pressure was there.

"But she had no nerves."

Britain's progress in the Olympic skeleton has resembled a Houston space centre countdown: three-two-one.

Schmid said: "We started with Alex Coomber's bronze in Salt Lake City 2002, then Shelley Rudman won the silver in Turin four years ago, and now gold.

"It's a big improvement for a country like the UK, this means a lot for the whole skeleton sport."

Williams only took up the sport in 2002 and made her international debut the following year.

She said: "Everyone believed in me more that I did in myself.

"The medal is theirs as well, not only mine. I share it with all of you."

Andy Hunt, Britain's Chef de Mission at these Games, claimed that Williams' gold medal heralded the start of a new successful period for British winter sports.

He said: "We talk about this being a dawn of a new era for winter sports and I think what Amy's achieved will bring about that new dawn."

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