Steele slides into silver medal win

AUSTRALIA'S big experiment with women's skeleton is starting to reap big results with Michelle Steele picking up a breakthrough first World Cup medal in the event.

Bundaberg's Steele was in top place after the initial run on the 1998 Winter Olympics course on Saturday night, ultimately picking up the silver medal after a combined two-run time of one minute 54.51.

United States slider Katie Uhlaender collected the gold medal, her fourth straight for the season, in 1:54.23 while bronze went to Courtney Yamada, also of the US, in 1:54.59.

"It's the first World Cup medal for Australia which is pretty special and my first World Cup medal which is extremely special for me and for the team as well," Steele said.

"It was a tough race and I've had a tough week here in training.

"It was very, very exciting to win the first heat, because I have never come close to doing that before, beating Katie Uhlaender which was pretty awesome."

It was an excellent evening overall for Australia with Steele's teammate and world junior champion Melissa Hoar finishing seventh after missing the first half of the season recovering from a hip injury.

The third member of the team, Emma Lincoln-Smith, was 14th.

Steele, who was only introduced to the sport in late 2004 after a radical Australian Institute of Sport program to turn beach sprinters into sliders, had a series of excellent early results without getting through to the podium at World Cup level.

Her consistency had raised hopes of an unlikely Winter Olympics medal, but she struggled on the intimidating Turin track and finished 13th.

But her potential was obvious with four top six placings in World Cup events in the lead-up to Turin and a further two top 10 finishes this season before her runner's up finish.

Uhlaender leads the individual World Cup standings on 400 points with team-mate Noelle Pikus-Pace in second position on 290 points.

Swiss Olympic champion Maya Pedersen - absent from the Nagano event - is in third position on 260 points while Steele is next on 215 points.

The US leads the Nations' Cup on 230 points, Canada is second on 215 and Australia holds third place with 164. The next World Cup event is in Igls, Austria, on Sunday.

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