Yarnold and Yun make Olympic skeleton history
Great Britain’s Lizzie Yarnold produced a quicksilver fourth run at the Alpensia Sliding Centre to become the first athlete to retain the Olympic women’s skeleton title. Meanwhile the Republic of Korea’s Yun Sung-bin made history of his own as he won the men’s title to become his country’s first Winter Olympic gold medallist in a non-skating event.
Yarnold strikes gold again
The women’s skeleton title stayed with British slider Lizzie Yarnold, who produced a stunning fourth run to beat pre-competition favourite Jacqueline Lölling of Germany by 0.45 seconds overall. Completing the podium was Yarnold’s team-mate Laura Deas, who took bronze by a slender margin from Austria’s Janine Flock.
After respectively going 0.08 and 0.15 seconds faster than Lölling and Flock in the first run, Yarnold lay third behind them at the end of the first day of the competition, though only a tenth of a second separated the three athletes. “My physio Louise spoke to me before the second run and reminded me what I was capable of, what we’ve been able to do together,” said the defending champion.
In the third leg, on 17 February, it was Flock who hit the front, albeit by only 0.02 seconds from Yarnold and a tenth of a second from Lölling, with Deas a further 0.09 seconds behind in fourth.
The reigning champion then eclipsed everyone on the fourth run, setting a new track record of 51.46 seconds to retain her title. Lölling, the 2017 world and European champion, had to be content with silver, while Flock made several mistakes to allow Deas to jump over her into third.
The women’s skeleton title, which was first contested at Salt Lake City 2002, has been in British hands since Amy Williams claimed it at Vancouver 2010, with Yarnold the first female athlete to win it twice in a row.
“I don’t really know how it happened,” the two-time champion said after her win. “I guess four years ago, the whole team all dared to dream that this was possible and I just went with all them and we managed it. I handled the pressure on the fourth run because I’ve had a lot of practice. I’ve done it hundreds of times: being consistent, repeating performances and believing in myself.”
Yun strikes home run
In the men’s skeleton on 15 February, Yun dominated proceedings from start to finish, posting the fastest time on each of the four runs and posting a track record of 50.02 seconds on his final descent. In a sport where the difference between gold and silver is often just a few hundredths of a second, Yun’s winning margin of 1.63 seconds was remarkable. Alex Tregubov (OAR) was his closest challenger, while Great Britain’s Dom Parsons finished 0.02 seconds further back to take the bronze.
The first athlete from Asia to win an Olympic skeleton medal, Yun was 18 when he took up the sport in 2012, a few months after learning that PyeongChang would be hosting the Winter Games six years later and on the advice of one of his lecturers at the University of Seoul. He finished on the podium at his World Cup debut in Whistler (CAN) in 2014, and prepared the ground for his Olympic triumph by scoring five wins in seven events to lift the 2017/18 IBSF World Cup title.
A former 400m runner, Parsons owed his bronze – his country’s first medal at PyeongChang 2018 – in part to some unexpected mistakes by five-time world champion Martins Dukurs of Latvia, who dropped down from second to fourth place on his final run. Dukurs could at least take some consolation from the glowing tribute Yun paid him after sealing his gold: “He’s always been a legend for me and I’ve still got a lot to learn from him.”