PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Lizzy Yarnold’s second successive gold and a bronze for teammate Laura Deas underlined Britain’s extraordinary dominance of Olympic women’s skeleton racing on Saturday — made all the more extraordinary as the country does not boast a single track.
British women have medaled at every skeleton event since the sport was reintroduced to the Winter Games in 2002.
Despite the lack of a track in their own country, Britons can claim to have been the founding fathers of the sport.
The legendary and exclusive Cresta Run ice track, spiritual home of the Winter Olympics skeleton event, was invented by bored members of the British upper class staying at a high-end Swiss hotel, though women are still not allowed to ride its icy twists and curves.
But somehow, Britain’s women have become a major force in the sport.
“I got into it by myself — there wasn’t any of the structure that there is now,” said Amy Williams, who won Britain’s first skeleton gold at Vancouver in 2010.
Four years later in Sochi, Yarnold matched Williams’ gold. On Saturday she reached new heights, becoming the first Briton to successfully defend any Winter Olympic title, while Deas’ bronze puts two British medalists on a podium for the first time.
“What took me maybe five years to get to, took Laura and Lizzy one year,” Williams said.
That’s in part thanks to a conscious and calculated effort by British sports officials to find women whose bodies are perfectly suited for the sport via an official “Girls4Gold” recruitment program.
“Girls would rock up on a day, get tested, then be popped into different sports that their body was suited to,” Williams said.
Yarnold was a heptathlete with dreams of making it as a pentathlete while Deas had ambitions in eventing, but both were found to be naturally suited to a sport they knew nothing about and were allocated training and financial assistance from the U.K.’s national lottery.
While the lack of a home track puts them at a “massive disadvantage,” it changes the way the federation chooses its athletes, head of performance at the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association Danny Holdcroft said.
“It makes sure that we are detailed in selecting the right athletes,” said Holdcroft, who added that British sliders have, remarkably, only around three hours of actual sliding time on the ice per season.
Instead, they use a roller coaster-like track on which to practice the crucial fast start to shave off time in an Olympic sport measured in hundredths of seconds.
“In Germany you might have started at five years old, so you may have got really good at driving but you might never be a really fast sprinter,” Williams said.
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