Lizzy Yarnold shed tears of joy as her lifetime of sporting endeavour was rewarded by having a Winter Olympic gold medal draped round her neck in the Sochi Olympic Park on Saturday night.

The mask of steel she had worn throughout her quest to become Great Britain's fourth women's skeleton medallist finally slipped as the magnitude of her achievement finally dawned in front of thousands of flag-waving supporters.

"It's just me - Lizzy," said a disbelieving Yarnold after the ceremony as she admitted she had finally begun to come to terms with being an Olympic champion.

Yarnold added: "I was crying before I even went out there. I had to look again and check that my medal was really this colour. It just made it worth every second of work - a whole lifetime of work - for this moment

"I couldn't stop crying the whole way through. I cry a lot in private but when I've got a job to do I'm very set and serious. The ceremony was a lot more nerve-racking. I didn't know what to do out there."

Her victory ceremony along with an equally overjoyed Noelle Pikus-Pace who took silver, and rising Russian bronze medallist Elena Nikitina, capped an extraordinarily steep trajectory for Yarnold, who recalled how her first skeleton run six years ago as part of a Girls4Gold talent programme left her ready to "throw up".

Yarnold spent her first full day as Olympic champion completing an endless round of media interviews and was clearly revelling in every second of the public acclaim, but the depths of the determination which had got her to this moment were never far away.

Yarnold's enormous 0.97 seconds winning margin over her rivals, coming at the end of a season in which she won four out of eight World Cup races and finished on the podium in three more, suggested the 25-year-old has what it takes to dominate her sport for years to come.

And there is clearly no danger of her opting to follow the example set by Amy Williams, who retired shortly after her own gold medal exploits in Vancouver four years ago partly due to injury and partly because she knew she could not realistically hope to surpass her momentous achievement.

Yarnold added: "I think this is the first time that there's been a World Cup champion and an Olympic champion at the same time.

"I've achieved a lot in my career but I'm only very young and I'm very hungry for more. I'm willing to learn and I can't wait for the next challenge - I'll probably be back in the gym by next week."

Yarnold said she remained unaware of the magnitude of her achievement back home, having not had the time to get back on social media where her Twitter followers increased from 2,500 to almost 40,000 by the end of Saturday night, while BBC audience figures for her win peaked at 5.2million.

They watched a pair of inspired runs from Yarnold, who led by 0.44 seconds overnight and proceeded to make a mockery of suggestions that she may struggle with the pressure by returning to the Sanki Sliding Center on Friday to lay down a track record.

Between her third and fourth runs, Yarnold listened to music from Bombay Bicycle Club and even found time for a quick nap while the rest of the nation peered through much-bitten fingernails at the culmination of an event measured in hundredths of a second.

Her phenomenal mental strength has always been one of Yarnold's chief characteristics since she was first selected to skeleton - a sport of which she knew nothing about, having initially favoured a career in modern pentathlon.

And as she harked back to those early days of track testing, it became apparent just how she had harnessed those early anxieties and forged an ability which is, in all likelihood, destined to keep her at the top of her sport all the way to the next Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

"I remember just holding on and trying not to let my head hit the ice from all the pressure," said Yarnold. "It was really quite messy, but as I got up and pulled my heavy sled out of the out-run I told my coach, 'I think I can get better at this'."