SHELLEY Rudman finished in 16th place in the Olympic women's skeleton tonight as compatriot Lizzy Yarnold kept her nerve to claim Olympic gold for Great Britain in the mountains above Rosa Khutor.

Pewsey slider Rudman finished with a combined time of 3:56.47 as Yarnold, the 25-year-old from Kent, smashed the track record in her third run to move over three quarters of a second clear of her American rival Noelle Pikus-Pace.

Yarnold she clocked 58.09 seconds on her fourth and final run to win by 0.97secs from Pikus-Pace with a combined time of three minutes 52.89secs.

Pikus-Pace took the silver and Russia's Elena Nikitina the bronze.

Yarnold had gone into the final two runs at the Sanki Sliding Center with a commanding 0.44 second advantage over Pikus-Pace after a commanding performance on Thursday.

And despite inevitable fears of how she might cope with the pressure of holding such a big overnight lead, she responded with a sensational run when she went first in the third run as night fell over the Caucasus mountains.

Just as Amy Williams had set a track record in her third run four years ago to effectively rubber-stamp gold, Yarnold's run left her 0.78 clear of Pikus-Pace going into the final run.

Yarnold celebrated after her gold-clinching final run by running towards the British fans in the crowd holding aloft the Union Jack and beaming with joy.

Yarnold's overnight lead had seemed to justify her status as the strongest British favourite for a Winter Olympic gold medal since Torvill and Dean triumphed in Sarajevo 30 years ago to the day.

But victory was still far from certain with home favourite Nikitina looking a particular threat having trailed Yarnold by only 0.05 seconds after the first heat before a bump midway down her second run knocked her back into third.

Yarnold's victory makes her the fourth consecutive British woman to win an Olympic skeleton medal after Alex Coomber, Shelley Rudman and Amy Williams, who took gold in Vancouver four years ago.

Williams was present to witness Yarnold's piece of history, which came after a dominant World Cup season that saw her win the overall title with four wins and three more podium finishes from the season's eight races.

Yarnold's parents Clive and Judith, her two sisters Katie and Charlotte, and her boyfriend James Roche, who is a sled technician with the British bobsleigh team, were present to witness her famous triumph.

Yarnold said: "I don't think it's going to sink in for a long time.

"The fourth run I was totally relaxed and went out and enjoyed it. It was a bit of a messy run but I'm thrilled to get here after working so hard for the past five years, which makes it all worth it.

"I'm pleased that I could show the world what I'm capable of. I wanted to do myself justice and I can't believe I did it.''

Rudman, who was one of the first to congratulate Yarnold after she crossed the line, said: "It's really great for GB and for our sport. I knew it was pretty much a gold medal in the bag."