The Ireland women's bobsleigh team have finished a very creditable 17th at the Winter Olympic games in Vancouver, winning their personal duel with Australia in the process.

Pilot Aoife Hoey safely negotiated her Winter Olympic debut and said her and Claire Bergin's performances at the Whistler Sliding Centre had served as a major boost for winter sports in Ireland.

Hoey and brakewoman Bergin became the first women's bobsleigh team from Ireland to qualify for the Games, finishing 17th of the 21 teams last night in an event won by Canada's Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyes.

Regardless of the result, the pair have made a big impact and former Irish triple jump champion Hoey said: ‘Winter sports have got a big boost.

‘People have the impression that you're from Ireland and you don't have snow but just because you don't have something doesn't mean you can't do it.

‘We want to encourage people to follow their dreams.’

As well as completing their four heats without incident while other teams crashed on the sport's fastest track in the world, the pair had also survived two legal bids to have them removed from the competition in favour of teams from Australia and Brazil in a dispute of geographic representation.

The Australian pair of Astrid Loch-Wilkinson and Cecilia McIntosh were added to the start list as a 21st team and the Irish team had the satisfaction of seeing them finish two places below them in 19th having crashed on their final run.

‘After all the legal fuss before the competition, we feel vindicated with the results achieved here,’ Hoey said.

‘The atmosphere at the track was awesome but not intimidating and we decided to go for broke on each run but being careful not to crash.

‘We're thrilled to finish 17th and will hold our heads up high in the knowledge we did our best for our country on what was the fastest and toughest track we have ever encountered.’

Bergin, 25, who ran for Ireland in the 4x400m relay at last year's European Championships in Turin, said she was thrilled with her first Olympic experience.

‘Fantastic. I'm so happy we got to do the fourth run. The support we have here is fantastic,’ Bergin said.

‘It's been a rollercoaster ride I guess. Nothing can replace being at the Olympic Games.’