Our Golden Girl

IN PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA

Credit: Alamy Live News

Lizzy Yarnold MBE cemented her place in sporting history after winning every major title in the sport of Skeleton in just 407 days giving her the Grand Slam of titles when she was the Olympic, World and European Champion. Lizzy won the Olympic Skeleton event at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 having led the field in every training run leading up to the Games and over the entire four race event, her winning margin of 0.97 seconds was the largest ever. After a year out, Lizzy is now back with the British Team and has been preparing for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, Lizzy is more motivated than ever to be the first British Winter Olympian to retain their Olympic title. Our Editor, Steve Rowley, caught up with her whilst at the World Cup in Germany.

I n the last few weeks, Lizzy Yarnold has found it tough after finishing 13th in Winterburg and 19th in Altenberg where she was competing in the World Cup. She has a couple more rounds before the Olympic selection for Team GB on January 22nd, however despite the recent results, she says she feels refreshed after the Christmas break and hopes to make the team for the trip to PyeongChang in South Korea.

“Retaining my Olympic title is a tough ask, but I’ve been gearing up for this one race for years now.”

The Olympic skeleton champion, 28, was diagnosed with a vestibular disorder last year, which affects the inner ear. She said the problem, which she has suffered from for several years, can affect her at any time, however Lizzy says she wants to “compete in every race” despite suffering from these dizzy spells. She continued to say that the condition does not pose a threat to her career, despite reaching speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. “The condition I have is more like a travel sickness,” she said. “When I’m going down the track sometimes I can get disorientated.”

Lizzy was, as every winter athlete does, training over the Christmas break and said that it is such a key part of the season for her that she really can’t miss it. Although she did find some time to be at home and relax with her husband, James.

“My husband and I had a quiet Christmas, where my main aim was not to eat too much and not get ill! I had a couple of days of complete switch off, which is great as the season is all-consuming. Luckily, I have a great support network, which begins with James.”

We went back to the start of it all and asked Lizzy how did a young girl from Sevenoaks become an Olympic and World Champion.

“I was always interested in sport growing up and tried my hand at any activity I could – from rugby to horse riding, diving to netball. I loved athletics and specialised in the heptathlon. When I was a teenager I realised that I was never going to be quite good enough to realise my dream and go to the Olympics.”

“I went to university, where I studied Geography & Sports Science, and whilst there my friend saw an advert for a talent day run by UK Sport. We went along and took part in lots of physical tests to see if we were suited to any sports in particular. I was selected for the Skeleton, a sport I’d never heard of before! I went through another load of X-factor style physical and mental tests before being selected months later onto the British Skeleton development team. Everything went from there.”

Lizzy is more motivated than ever to be the first British Winter Olympian to retain their Olympic title. Credit: Sport In Pictures/Alamy

It is no surprise that Lizzy specialised in the heptathlon, as her sporting idol growing up was Denise Lewis. “As a young heptathlete I aspired to be like her” she said. Lizzy was just 10 years old when Lewis won her gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The heptathlete was not her only role model growing up though, as she includes her mum and sisters along with close friends and teammates over the years.

Winter Olympics 2018

Regarding her chances in PyeongChang this February, we asked Lizzy to describe how she was feeling about it all. She said: “I’m excited at the thought of going to my second Olympic Games and hopefully becoming the first Team GB athlete to retain their Winter title. It is a tough ask but I’ve been gearing up for this one race for years now.”

Lizzy’s first Olympics in Sochi in 2014 finished with her walking away with the gold medal, however the whole experience was much more than just winning gold.

“Team GB has a great vibe – we are all really supportive of each other and because we don’t get to see each other on the winter circuit, it is great to all get together and be able to support each other in our competitions.”

“Room allocations are done once we know who has qualified and how many accreditations we have as a sport to give to our support staff. Sometimes you get lucky and get your own room!”

PyeongChang versus Sochi

“The countries are obviously very different so from that perspective it will be unique. Sochi was very warm for a start – PyeongChang has more of a winter climate so we will be wrapping up warm!”
“For me it will be more familiar going to my second Olympics – there is so much about the environment that makes it different from a normal competition, the Athletes Village, the food hall, the Opening Ceremony, being amongst all the sports and athletes from other countries. You have to take all of it in at your first Games where as I should be used to it all, although it will still be brilliant to experience it again.”

We asked Lizzy what she hopes to have achieved in 2018 and her answer was not surprising: “To retain my Olympic title is the ultimate ambition this year, but right now it is achieving selection to Team GB so I can be on the plane to PyeongChang”.

Important dates for Lizzy’s diary
• January 19 – last BMW IBSF World Cup event in Königssee
• January 22 – Team GB Winter Olympics selection day
• February 9 – PyeongChang Olympics Opening Ceremony
• February 16 – Women’s Skeleton heats 1 & 2
• February 17 – Women’s Skeleton heats 3 & 4
• February 25 – PyeongChang Olympics Closing Ceremony

We’ll be following Lizzy via scoial media throughout her Olympic journey in the next few weeks, and so can you via Twitter @TheYarnold and on Instagram: therealyarnold.

The Skeleton – an outline

• The Skeleton is a toboggan that was used by North American Indians to transport freight in the winter
• The sport was first practiced in St. Moritz in 1884
• At the Winter Olympics, it was adopted as a formal event at the 2nd Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1928, and was also part of the St. Moritz Olympic Programme in 1948
• However, it was then excluded from the Olympic Games because it was seen as too dangerous for the athlete lying on the sled head first, face down
• Skeleton was reintroduced to the Olympic Programme for the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 with a woman’s event added
• Skeleton is one of the sliding types of speed sports events and the athlete speeds down a 1,200 to 1,500m ice track
• The average slope inclination is 8 to 15%
• When sliding, the pressure at the time of turning on the curve is nearly four times the gravity
• The average maximum speed per hour is 120km.
• It is a sport where even 1/100th of a second counts, and speed is crucial to winning

Women´s Skeleton

• The total weight of the sled and the athletes cannot be more than 92kg
• The weight deficiency can be adjusted by attaching a lead on the sled

The last word

What happens when it’s all over, do you have another sport in mind? “I think I might be a bit old to take up a new winter sport! I love skiing but haven’t been able to go since I took up the skeleton.” Well we wish Lizzy every success in South Korea come February 16th and hope she comes back with another gold medal.