British women have been a fixture on the podium of the Olympic skeleton ever since Salt Lake City 2002, a proud tradition that Elizabeth Yarnold hopes to maintain in Sochi.
Despite the fact that there is not a single bobsleigh, luge or skeleton track on British soil, the country has established an enviable record in the latter discipline, especially among female athletes. Since the start of the previous decade, all of Great Britain’s medals at the Winter Olympic Games (with the exception of the gold claimed by the women’s curling team in 2002) have come in skeleton: bronze for Alex Coomber at Salt Lake City 2002, silver for Shelley Rudman at Turin 2006 and gold for Amy Williams at Vancouver 2010. At 24 years of age, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Yarnold is on track to keep that tremendous run going. "Gold is absolutely possible," she says. "It's what I train every day for. I believe in myself."
“We don’t practise our skill for about nine months of the year,” explains Yarnold, who currently sits in the top five of skeleton’s world rankings, “Then we have six practice runs in the competition – that’s all we’re allowed. I may be competing against athletes on their home track where they’ve done 100-150 runs that year. But that’s our advantage as British girls, because we learn very quickly, we know what we’re doing, and we’ve got a great team. I’m feeling really confident. It’s just about enjoying the sport and having fun. I’m so fortunate to have this as what I do day-to-day! Being happy and having fun is what brings my results. I don’t put too much pressure on myself, but I know what I can achieve and I just want to do the best I can.”
“A magnificent track”
This autumn, Yarnold took a huge step in the right direction when she won the British skeleton trials in Altenberg (GER), which she described as “one of the most difficult events of the season”. Then, in mid-November she spent two weeks training at the Sanki Sliding Centre high above Sochi. “I’d already gone there in February for the World Cup, but having some extra days allowed me to improve the way I negotiate the bends and the different lines available to me,” she says I have always described the Sochi skeleton track as magnificent. The structure is lit all the way down, with the wooden panelling surrounding the track protecting the ice from the 10-20 degree temperatures. With 40 or more skeleton sleds descending daily, plus all the 2 and 4-man bobs the ice damage can escalate quickly. The ice has kept in good condition for this whole two week period, I just hope for some more wintery temperatures to help me go even faster! During this International Training Week I’ve had my fastest speeds clocking 127kmph, and a push start 100th of second behind the current push record,” she explains.
While attending a recent British Olympic Committee event in London to mark the 100-day countdown to the Winter Games, Yarnold made the acquaintance of Sebastian Coe. “He recognised me!” she exclaims. “I must have done something right for that to happen.” She certainly has! Since her victory in Calgary on 29 November 2013, Yarnold has been an ever-present on the podium in the FIBT World Cup circuit. Following her third win of the season in Winterberg on 4 January 2014, she finally allowed herself to look ahead to Sochi. “Now I can really start dreaming about going to the Games,” she said. Given her recent form, the Briton has every reason to feel confident that, when she resumes her acquaintance with the Sanki course on 13-14 February, she can achieve great things on the Olympic stage.