Britain’s Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams does not believe Lizzy Yarnold would have had the opportunity to emulate her as a skeleton champion had she not won a medal herself at Vancouver 2010.
Williams became Team GB’s first individual gold medallist at a Winter Olympics in 30 years when she won the title in Canada, and the title has been in British hands ever since following Yarnold’s victories in Sochi and Pyeongchang.
Even though Shelley Rudman set the ball rolling with silver at Turin 2006, the sport’s funding was on a knife edge heading into Vancouver, and Williams remembers being told in no uncertain terms that skeleton’s future hinged on her performance.
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“The money that my medal got us in Vancouver...we all got told we had to bring home a medal or skeleton wouldn’t exist in the UK anymore,” she told Eurosport.
We had a lot of pressure on us, that medal enabled Lizzy and Laura (Deas) to exist in the sport, and all the other athletes coming through.
“I remember someone from UK Sport asked me to outline all the training and hours I did and we just created this formula. If you do, this, this and this, you had the best coaches in the world, the best equipment in the world, you can fast track and become an amazing athlete.”
The formula has proved to be a resounding success, and bronze medallist Laura Deas heads the British challenge for Beijing, with Brogan Crowley, Marcus Wyatt, Craig Thompson and Matt Weston also looking to qualify for the Games. This time round, the men are arguably greater contenders for gold.
Yarnold and Deas famously came through the Girls4Gold talent search scheme. Their innate sporting ability was assessed, and they switched sports - Yarnold from heptathlon and Deas from equestrian. Williams found her own way to skeleton through athletics as well, and each was placed into a high-performance programme which has had extraordinary results.
Lizzy and Laura are the proof, they’re in an amazing programme and success breeds success and it brings faith.
“For the guys, they’re so close and have an amazing friendship, they all push each other. I mentor the athletes below them, and so I’ve always been around them. I’ve felt like their big sister, it’s really exciting especially in the men’s field.
“They’re on that uphill trajectory, I don’t know if this Olympics comes too soon to medal, but they’re going to be on ice doing six, seven races before it. If they get their confidence levels up, first Olympics, no pressure - they could pull it out of the bag.”
Williams remembers her own route into the sport as being a lot more conventional, which required a great deal of graft.
“I’m proper old school, the same as Shelley Rudman, I lived in Bath and they’d just built the start track in 2002 for the Salt Lake City Games, and I was just an athlete training in the gym and invited myself along.
“I just gave it a go, I was pretty quick pushing the sled, I joined an army ice camp in Lillehammer and me and a few other civilians, including Shelley, paid around £2000.
“Everyone who did the sliding sports were military. We were the very first era of normal civilian people doing the sport, a guy called Simon Timpson came on board and created this performance pathway.
“There’s no reason why we can’t excel in all those other winter sports, but it comes down to funding. We don’t have funding to poach the best ice hockey coaches out of the NHL.
“It comes down to kids playing it too, so there’s a deeper level, and then all the way up to being a young adult - how many universities even have an ice hockey team? But in skeleton, we poach anyone who’s a power athlete - we’ll do our best to grab them.”
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