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Former Maidstone schoogirl Lizzy Yarnold goes from skeleton novice to Olympic champion in six years

17 February 2014

Lizzy Yarnold celebrates her Olympic gold. Pictures Getty Images

Lizzy Yarnold celebrates her Olympic gold. Pictures: Getty Images

What is it about well-spoken British girls that makes them want to propel themselves headfirst down an icy chute without fear for life or limb?

Former Maidstone schoolgirl Lizzy Yarnold joined a growing cast as she won the Olympic women’s skeleton title high up in the Caucasus Mountains to continue an unlikely domination of the most unusual sport.

Yarnold, from West Kingsdown, outclassed her rivals to win by nearly a second over the four runs – reaching speeds of 80mph on her trusty sled Mervyn, her chin just two inches off the ice.

Yarnold’s win means Great Britain have now won four consecutive Olympic skeleton medals, from Alex Coomber’s 2002 bronze to Shelley Rudman’s silver in Turin and the gold won by Amy Williams four years ago in Vancouver.

Lizzie Yarnold on her way to gold in the Skeleton. Picture: Getty Images Europe

Not many schoolgirls grow up dreaming of being a skeleton slider but only cycling and modern pentathlon can claim a similar domination of an event in Olympic sport and, if the record continues in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in four years’ time, it might just be time to declare it our national sport.

Yarnold is the latest graduate of UK Sport’s annual search that aims to connect talented but not world-class athletes to new sports.

She excelled at horse riding, netball and athletics as a pupil at Maidstone Grammar School.

She said: “I have worked so hard to get into this position and I am just so proud that my dreams have come true.

“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.”

Every Olympian in Sochi is ready to tell you about ‘their journey’ but Yarnold’s is truly remarkable for no other reason than its speed. In less than six years, she gone from total novice to Olympic champion.

Yarnold added: “It started such a long time ago. I was an athlete at the age of 13 with my parents driving me around the country every night for training. I wouldn’t have got here without them.”

Quickest on every training run, quickest on every competition run, there was an air of formality about her win.

While publicly saying all the right things, she finally admitted that she wasn’t always as nerveless as it appeared.

“I have cried privately, the pressure has been hard."

She said: “I have cried privately, the pressure has been hard. I have no idea what will happen in the future. I love training, I am a dedicated athlete and I am an athlete through and through, that is all I know.”

Whether she continues in the sport or not, Yarnold’s coach Andi Schmid is already looking ahead, with a production line of promising sliders coming through his ranks, proving that facilities will only get you so far unless you have visionary coaches to deliver on a strategy.

He said: “It is an amazing feeling. Four years after Amy and now this and another name on the gold. It is a great achievement for British Skeleton and the individual athlete.”

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Lizzy Yarnold in skeleton action. Picture Phil Searle

Lizzy Yarnold in skeleton action. Picture: Phil Searle

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