From calming coaches to dishing out hugs at the top of the daunting skeleton track and sharing laughs over dinners and lunches, Olympic silver medal winner Shelley Rudman went above and beyond her duty as a role model at 2016 Youth Olympic Games.
Twelve months on and not only is Shelley Rudman still raving about the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games, but it seems like she remains in touch with half of the participants.
Exuberant, naturally approachable and deeply immersed in the intricacies of elite sport she certainly is, but even more than this, it is the wildly contrasting nature of Rudman’s three Olympic experiences that made her such a hit in Lillehammer.
“You get quite a few athletes who have just had success or didn’t reach their expectations at the Olympics, so they have set views, whereas I have literally gone through all the spectrum,” Rudman said.
A surprising silver medal at her first Winter Olympic Games in Turin in 2006 was followed by what she labelled at the time as a “terrible” sixth place at Vancouver 2010 and a dispiriting 16th place finish at Sochi 2014, an event she went in to as the reigning world champion.
“I felt that with the knowledge I had from those three Olympics I was able to tick all the boxes if an athlete came to me for any help or advice,” she said. The young competitors came flooding.
Rudman modestly admits that by the end of the Games she felt like “almost part of the team” of many of the athletes, sitting with them at lunch and dinner as well as consulting with them before and after competition. Keeping the athletes grounded and as calm as possible was her most common task.
“Some of them were scared of the actual greatness of the event. That started to fall on their shoulders. Some of them started to get the wobbles, particularly if they had been doing well in other competitions or in training,” said Rudman. “So that was where I tried to get them relaxed, not to put too much strain on themselves.”
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the 35-year-old was in most demand at the top of the skeleton track.
“I won’t name names but during the skeleton there were quite a lot of emotions in the changing room on the final day. I went up there and I managed to help quite a few of those athletes calm down. I said to them you have done everything you can, enjoy it, you still take it seriously because it is a race but remember you are very young in the sport,” Rudman said.
In an endearingly understated way, the Olympic silver medal winner recognises the impact she had.
“I think they liked that a peer in their sport said it and they thought ‘you know what that is pretty honest’ and they respected it,” she said.
Already a huge fan of the underlying concept of the Youth Olympic Games, Rudman’s experiences in Lillehammer convinced her of the genuine use of Athlete Role Models.
“Having someone there to talk to is quite important but particularly at that age group, they are not only going through the most important competition of their life to date, they are also changing, their peer group is changing, their bodies are changing, their hormones are changing,” Rudman explained.
Much to her amusement, however, it was not just the competitors who needed a bit of tender loving care.
“The day before the race the coaches were really stressed, wanting them (the athletes) to do really well,” laughed Rudman before adding, “I had to just go ‘Hey, just remember these are still youngsters and they are still learning and finding themselves. Let them race and give them really good feedback’.”
From fellow role models and Olympians Christine Nesbitt and Molly Schaus to gold medal-winning slider Ashleigh Pittaway, Rudman remains in contact with a host of Lillehammer 2016 faces.
“I love working with athletes and I like being connected to the Olympics,” she said. “The fact I did the role made me feel part of it again but in a different way and that was really nice. I was quite surprised at how happy and comfortable I felt in that role.”
There is no doubt that Rudman’s passion for skeleton still burns bright. With her husband, four-time Olympian Kristan Bromley, still working in the sport, it is an ever-present in her household, the televised races reminding Rudman what she is missing. Experiences like those she so enjoyed at the Youth Games help plug the gap, but do not be too surprised if you see her back in a lycra suit, charging down the icy mountain at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games alongside some of those she mentored so successfully in Lillehammer last year.“I haven’t retired, I just haven’t competed since having my second daughter,” Rudman said with a smile.