How Yarnold became one of Team GB's all-time greats
Skeleton

How Yarnold became one of Team GB's all-time greats

16 October 2018 / 16:15
There have been many skeleton medals in recent Olympic history for Team GB. But none have captured the hearts and minds of a nation quite like Lizzy Yarnold.

The slider who went from total novice to Olympic champion in less than six years.

The adrenaline junkie who spends her spare time knitting and listening to The Archers.

The homegrown star who developed a ‘Yarny Army’ of followers that cheered her into the history books.

The world-class athlete who took a break from the sport when on top of the world, then returned and climbed the mountain all over again.

As comfortable throwing herself down an ice-track at breakneck speed as discussing her book-keeping qualifications and her amateur interest in lampshade making.

There is no-one quite like Yarnold – who officially retired from the sport this week – and here we pick out a few of her career highlights on her path to becoming Team GB’s greatest winter Olympian of all time.

SOCHI SLIDE FOR SUCCESS

Her first Olympic success in Sochi in 2014 was remarkable chiefly for its inevitability.

Team GB had won Olympic skeleton medals at the previous three Games, through Alex Coomber’s 2002 bronze to Shelley Rudman’s silver in Turin and Amy Williams’ gold in Vancouver.

A nation expected, and in Yarnold we had the firm form favourite and she never looked like disappointing.

She won by almost a second over the four runs, touching speeds north of 80mph on her trusty sled Mervyn.

The ex-Maidstone Grammar School pupil, a former horse rider, netball ace and athlete, was the best in the world at a brand new sport she had only taken up five and a half years earlier.

"I have worked so hard to get into this position and I am just so proud that my dreams have come true," she said.

"I would have been proud of winning a medal and now I have got the gold, it is unexplainable. I am so proud of myself but I always have high expectations of myself.

"I always secretly intended to come to Sochi. That was always my dream and my goal but to win the whole race is far beyond my expectations.

"I wanted to do myself justice and I can't believe I did it. It's also lovely as it's Valentine's Day, so it has something romantic about it as well.

"My mum and dad and my sisters are here and I couldn't have done it without them or the Team GB skeleton team. I'm Olympic champion!"

THE FULL SET

Yarnold’s dominance of the sport continued the year after Sochi.

And on March 7 2015, she completed the full set of gold medals by topping the podium at the World Championships in Winterberg.

Adding that to her Olympic, European and World Cup crowns, and Yarnold had made history in double quick time with a groaning mantelpiece of trophies.

It had taken her only 407 days to complete the challenge and climb the mountain, but the journey had taken his toll and a season later, Yarnold had taken a step back from the sport.

With a wedding to plan, and a book-keeping course to keep her busy, Yarnold’s sabbatical was perfectly timed.

“After I’d achieved all my lifetime sporting ambitions, I was really exhausted emotionally and physically,” she admitted.

“There were so many layers of exhaustion that I had to unpack. I tried to get back into the gym for that summer and I just couldn’t commit to it, I just couldn’t be motivated.

“That’s when I had to stand back and look at it and look at the bigger picture of going to my next Olympics.

“It was quite a big decision to tell someone that I’m struggling and I can’t deal with it and whether I could take a year off.

“When I told my coaches how I felt, that was through tears. So to know that they would support me and help me and bring me back, it was really important to me. They were really supportive and understood, more than I could have ever imagined.”

A RETURN LIKE NO OTHER

Slowly but surely, Yarnold’s return to the sport began to bear fruit in the build-up to PyeongChang 2018.

But a World Cup silver and World Championship bronze – not to mention the rivalry of her compatriot and good friend Laura Deas – hardly marked her out as an Olympic double champion in waiting.

The first indicator that something special was in the offing came when Yarnold was selected as the flagbearer for the opening ceremony.

Then, when it came down the real business of competing – Yarnold was unstoppable once again.

The first Brit to defend a Winter Olympic title and one of an unprecedented three British medallists in one day alongside fellow slider Deas and freestyle skier Izzy Atkin.

Coming into PyeongChang, she hadn't won a race since the 2015 World Championships. Yet by the end of Saturday night she had another Olympic gold to her name after triumphing by nearly half a second.

And after fighting off a chest infection, this was the greatest achievement of the lot with Deas alongside her on the podium after taking bronze.

“I dreamt a couple of nights ago that we were both on the podium together, but I was too worried to tell Laura that I’d foreseen it,” said Yarnold. “I’m just overwhelmed.

“At times over the last four years it’s been so hard and I’ve doubted myself and wondered whether I could get back to where I wanted to be. But the team never lost faith and that’s why I’m back here on the podium.”

HONOURS LIST

And then finally, the cherry on the top came this summer when Yarnold was awarded an OBE, adding to her MBE, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

In becoming the nation’s most successful winter athlete of all time, Yarnold cemented herself in the hearts of a nation and bowed out on top.

Bill Sweeney, CEO of the BOA: “We are incredibly proud of those honoured today for their contribution to Olympism. In particular, Lizzy Yarnold and Anthony Joshua are great examples of athletes that were able to fulfil their not only their Olympic ambitions, but give so much back to their communities and country. 

"To see Lizzy in schools the length and breadth of the UK, showing her gold medals to wide-eyed youngsters, is to genuinely appreciate what inspiration means and how Olympic sport continues to have a positive impact in our society.”

Sportsbeat 2018