Olympic.org speaks to Great Britain’s Ashleigh Pittaway about winning skeleton gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016 and her bid to follow in the tracks of British Olympic champions Lizzy Yarnold and Amy Williams.
How challenging was 2020 for you?
“It was quite a year of change, I think, because I finished school, and then obviously with the COVID-19 situation, it was quite different. But I actually managed to train more than I used to, now that I have finished school. And I think for me, in terms of sport, it was quite a good year just because I had more time to focus on it.”
Now we’re in 2021, it’s been five years since you competed in the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016. How do you look back on your time there?
“Oh, I'm so grateful for the experience and I learned so much from competing at the Youth Olympic Games. I'm just really grateful that I was able to go. And especially last year, when I saw all the young athletes go and compete in the Games in Switzerland, it brought back the fond memories I have of the Youth Olympics.”
What are some of your fondest memories of your time there?
“The competition itself was really special to me because I worked really hard for it, and it all seemed to come together that day. And I made loads of friends. I just loved the atmosphere and the Village and everything. It was just a great environment to be in, really.”
How did it compare to other events that you have competed in?
“Well, it was definitely the biggest competition that I'd competed in at that point, and probably since then really as well. It was quite different to be in with other sports, and it was all really quite big.
And how special was it to come home with the gold medal?
“It was huge. I worked really, really hard for years towards that, and it was really special when I got it. It was quite surreal actually, because it's something that I'd always dreamed of, and I just felt really honoured to represent Britain and do so well.”
Do you think your experiences in Lillehammer have helped you in your career since then?
“Definitely. I think the main thing I took away from it is even though it can be intimidating to compete at such a high level, you always have to go into the competition with confidence and make sure that you believe in what you can do. I think that's the main thing I took away from it.”
How has your career progressed since Lillehammer?
“I’ve had a few good seasons and a few bad seasons since then. I won the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships [in 2019], which was another highlight in my career. But I've really struggled to combine sport and school. So now that I've finished school, it's been going really well and I'm competing at the World Cup level and starting to get competitive there, but I'll just have to keep pushing and see if I can keep up with the seniors, because I'm still quite young for our sport.”
What are your targets for the future?
“I was thinking of continuing my studies, but I made the decision to do that later when I've finished my sporting career, because it's just very hard to balance, and I want to do it properly. So now that I've only got the sport to focus on, I obviously want to try and push and get to the next Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. I decided that I had to fully focus on getting better and getting there. So that's the only thing I'm really doing; training and trying to get better.”
What do you feel that you need to work on between now and then to get yourself to Beijing 2022?
“I think my start has always been a bit of an issue, and I've never been up to standard with the other guys in my team, who obviously have a sprinting background or athletic background most of the time. This year I’ve made massive improvements towards that, but I'd like to keep improving in that area, and make sure my start's really competitive. And then just making sure that the equipment's right and that I'm getting used to that, and being confident and comfortable in my sliding abilities. I think those are the main things.”
And if you are able to qualify for Beijing 2022, do you think your experiences at the YOG in Lillehammer will help prepare you for the Games?
“I definitely think so. I often hear that people get quite overwhelmed when they go to the Olympic Games for the first time, and I think that a lot of things are really similar to the Youth Olympics, so I know what to prepare for. It may be on a bigger scale, but I think the experience has definitely helped because there are a lot of things that are similar or the same, and I think I can use that and be more prepared.”
Is it encouraging to see that the Youth Olympic champion before you, Jacqueline Lölling, has been able to go on to achieve great things at senior level since winning gold at the YOG?
“Definitely. I've always looked up to her. She's a great athlete and slider, and it's really encouraging to know that I've almost gone down the same path, and I have the potential to get there. I just need to work hard and make sure I put everything into place to get where she is.”
Great Britain has a fantastic recent record in skeleton, with Lizzy Yarnold and Amy Williams both winning Olympic gold and Shelley Rudman winning a world title. What's it like following in their footsteps?
“No pressure really! Obviously, we have massive people to follow, but it's really encouraging to know that I'm competing for a nation that has done it so often before; they know their processes and it's all very professional in the way we go about things and the way we prepare for the Olympic Games. So, I've definitely got a lot of courage and faith in the programme that I'm in, but yes, there’s definitely a bit of pressure following Lizzy, Amy and Shelley.”
What would you like to achieve?
“I'm definitely aiming for an Olympic medal; I think that would be great. And also, just to be competitive on the World Cup circuit, maybe win a world championship medal. That would be great as well.”