For a nation without much in the way of winter sport pedigree, one event that Great Britain seems to excel at against the odds is the women’s skeleton.
Even without its own ice track, Team GB have won a medal in each Winter Olympics since Alex Coomber won bronze at Salt Lake City in 2002. The sport is behind only figure skating as the nation’s most prolific.
Later this month, Laura Deas, alongside reigning Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold, will look to continue this incredible run of success on the brand new skeleton track in Pyeongchang.
While Yarnold continues to dominate the majority of the discussion around British medal hopes, you would be foolish to write off Deas, who up until the last World Cup race in Konigssee, was fifth in the world rankings.
Her 23rd place finish in Bavaria meant she ended up seventh overall, but the girl from Wrexham is happy with her form going into the Olympics.
“I was lying fifth up until that last race where I had a bit of a hiccup,” Deas said. “I think what I’m pleased with this season is how consistent I’ve been from within races.
“I’m able to maintain a good level from one run to another and I think going into the Olympics it’s really important because you’ve suddenly got to be able to be consistent over four runs rather than just two.”
This will only be Deas’ first Winter Olympics but owing to the excellent performances of her predecessors, she insists there is a requirement to deliver on the big stage.
“I want to do well and I am competitive,” she said. “But there’s also the fact that Lizzy, Amy and those girls did well in their first Olympic Games as well so it’s not as if I’m going there and expecting to just get through and having a look around for the next time.
“I’m going there with the hope of standing on the podium so I don’t feel like I’m getting away with less. I’m out there to do a job and I want to do it to the best of my ability for sure.”
Deas has certainly begun her time in Korea well, with Monday morning’s training times clocking her as the second fastest down the track on her first attempt and then the fastest on her second.
She backed this up on Wednesday as she was first and second in her third and fourth practice runs respectively. Perhaps, being the lesser known of the two British sliders could work to her advantage.
“I think its double edged really,” she said. “Because Lizzie has got the unique pressure of defending the Olympic title but for me I’ve got the pressure that I put on myself which I think is the most of any type of pressure.
“Although it’ll be a new environment and it’ll be different and it’ll be huge compared to your average world cup or world championship, the thought that keeps me confident and grounded going forward is that I will be competing against broadly the same fields of people that I do week-in week-out.
“I know that I have beaten all of them at different times in my career. I have stood on world cup podiums plenty of times and so I do know that it is doable.”
One such athlete who will not be competing when the final rolls around on Saturday is controversial Russian athlete Elena Nikitina.
Nikitina is one of the 45 Russian athletes to have their appeal turned down for their involvement in the state sponsored doping scheme that plagued the Sochi games four years ago and as a result, is banned from competing this month in Pyeongchang.
Nikitina took the bronze in Sochi four years ago, and as the fourth ranked slider across the world cups this year her absence opens a gap that Deas will be looking to take advantage of.
“I think it would be very easy for me to get overly sort of caught up in it and distracted by it but I’m trying to not let that happen,” Deas said. “The best way that I can protect clean sport and showcase it is by doing well myself.
“As far as I understand there won’t be any Russian women competing in the women’s skeleton. I am pleased that the IOC made the original decision that they did back in December but I think it was needed to put the strong stance out there that clean sport is important and it is something worth protecting.
“It would have been a great shame if that hadn’t happened so I think that’s a positive that we can take from the situation.”
Team GB’s incredible results in the skeleton since 2002 has, understandably, led to a massive increase in funding and Deas accepts this comes with an increased level of expectation.
“We were awarded an increased budget because we’ve got a proven track record,” she said matter-of-factly. “So of course, yeah there is a level of pressure – well responsibility rather than pressure – that comes with that amount of public money.
“You want to do the country proud, it has been invested well into vital things that will hopefully make us be the fastest ones on the track.
“It is important, though, not just to look at the people that are medal hopes right now because we’ve got a massive development programme coming through as well. A lot of athletes that have won medals this year at all different levels of international competition and I think we’ve got a lot of talent coming through now which has taken a few years to invest.
“It is really exciting to look forward to the next Olympics as well. I’m absolutely certain that we’ll have strong medal contenders for the next games too.”
Without looking too far ahead, Deas has her sights firmly set on causing a bit of an upset and ending up with a medal hanging around her neck come Saturday.
“On a personal level it would be a physical representation of the eight or nine years of focus, hard work and dedication that I’ve put into getting this far,” she said.
“The path for me hasn’t always been straightforward. I’ve been working my way logically one step at a time through the international ranks over the years and I think there were times when some people have thought: ‘oh she’s not going to get there’ or ‘she’s not progressing quickly enough’.
“If I were to come back with a medal that would be such an immense achievement of having gone through the long, long process to get to an elite level and to actually be able to compete against the world’s best and win.”
Even if things don’t quite fall for her in the final, as tends to happen in these volatile winter sports, Deas hopes that the watching British public are inspired to pick up the somewhat unusual sport of skeleton.
“It is such a fantastic sport,” she said, clearly animated at the thought of inspiring a new generation.
“I really hope that there are people from the UK and around the world that end up tuning in to watch the skeleton. They might never have seen it before but I’d love for them to watch it and be inspired and maybe take up a winter sport or take up any sport just because they’ve seen the crazy people out there doing something and they think it’s cool.”
It certainly doesn’t get much crazier than hurtling yourself down an ice track at speeds that can exceed 80 miles per hour but, as Yarnold’s achievements proved four years ago, crazy people can do incredible things and inspire a nation.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons