13 Feb 2014

Sliding for gold: skeleton Athlete Lizzy Yarnold

A latecomer to the high-speed sport of skeleton, GB medal hope Lizzy Yarnold brings formidable determination to the pursuit of Olympic glory.

Lizzy Yarnold, British skeleton athlete (Getty)

Born in Sevenoaks, 25-year-old Lizzy Yarnold was previously a heptathlete, and a relatively late starter to the world of skeleton.

She describes herself as “an athlete from an early age”, competing in athletics, highboard diving, horse riding, netball, “and many more”.

From an early age, Yarnold showed impressive focus on sports.

After being selected for the national prep schools high jump competition, she researched technique with her primary school sports teacher and spent every lunch hour practising at the track, as she describes on her own webpage:

“I recall a single moment of looking over to all my friends playing together and hearing them scream and shout in excitement, and here I was focused on jumping 1.5m instead of 1.45m, and I unquestionably knew that this was where I wanted to be.

“I wanted to see how good I could be at something and I knew that if I didn’t give up and I trained harder than anyone else, then I might just get there.”

High-speed career path

Having found the sport of skeleton during a 2008 UK Sport Girls4 Gold talent search, aimed at finding future Olympic champions, she took up the discipline properly the following year, and by 2010 was a member of the national squad.

Being an Olympian is a dream come true, but I want to get better and better Lizzy Yarnold

Her first major result came at the 2013 World Championships in Lake Placid, where she claimed bronze.

Lizzy Yarnold on the track (Getty)

She finished the 2012/2013 season ranked ninth in the world and continued her impressive form into the 2013/2014 season – taking the overall World Cup title last month, winning four of the eight races competed.

Yarnold’s success follows on from that of a number of British athletes who have done well on the track, despite there being not a single bobsleigh, luge or skeleton track on British soil.

Skeleton success for team GB 
Skeleton was first adopted into the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002 and team GB has been on the podium at every Games in which it has been included
It involves descending a special track with artificially frozen ice, on a sled. Athletes can reach speeds of up to 90 miles an hour
The competition lasts for two days with each athlete completing a total of 4 runs
The winner is the athlete with the lowest overall time after four runs. There are singles' competitions for men and women

After being selected for Sochi, Yarnold said:

“This really is a dream come true – my whole life I have dreamt about becoming a British Olympian and for the last five years since I took up skeleton, competing at Sochi 2014 has been my primary focus.

“This season has been great for my preparation, I am in a good place both physically and mentally – and I can’t wait to get back on the Sochi track, go over the lines and maintain my focus.”

I don’t take part in races to come second, so I will approach the Olympic Winter Games as I do every race and give it everything I’ve got Lizzy Arnold

Amy Williams took gold for Great Britain at the last winter olympics in Vancouver, and Yarnold has a good chance to take her crown in Sochi.

GB Chef de Mission Mike Hay said in January 2014:

“going into these Olympic Winter Games with a current world champion in Shelley, and Lizzy having had a straight run of seven podiums, four of them gold medals on the skeleton world cup circuit, will surely make for some exciting competition in Sochi.”

Mervyn the sled

Yarnold has named her 29kg sled Mervyn, after a former work colleague Mervyn Sugden.

With a few updates and improvements, she has stuck with the BlackRoc design since she began skeleton in 2009. Skeleton sheds have a steel frame on two steel runners and a saddle for the athlete to hold on to.

This high-speed technology costs between £6,000-£15,000, but that doesn’t include brakes or a steering device, so athletes need quick reaction times to negotiate corners and avoid crashes. Most tracks have fresh snow or foam pads at the end to help athletes come to a stop.

Sochi heats begin

Women’s heats one and two in the skeleton take place at the Slanki Sliding Centre on 13 February, from 7.30am UK time.

Heats three and four are on 14 February.