Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“They’ve been role models for me my whole career” GB skeleton athletes on their remarkable female Olympic success

Posted on 6 March 2020 by Julia Cook

 

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For most people, the thought of throwing yourself headfirst down an ice track at a speed of 90 miles an hour is an unwelcome one. But for skeleton athletes, this is their everyday. 

Great Britain have a remarkably successful history at skeleton and the female achievements on the program are standout.

The GB women have claimed medals at the Olympics every year since 2006, including three golds during their last three outings.

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The success started in 2002 when Alex Coomber won a bronze medal at her debut Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. 

Next up was Shelley Rudman claiming the silver medal at the Olympics in Turin in 2006.

Four years later Amy Williams took the gold in Vancouver, becoming the first British athlete to win an individual title at the Olympics in 30 years.

In 2014 Lizzy Yarnold slid to gold in Sochi, and four years later she retained her Olympic title with the win in Pyeongchang. 

In 2018 Laura Deas also took home the bronze medal to cement Britain’s Olympic dominance. 

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Watching Williams win her Olympic gold medal was one of Deas’ first memories on the GB skeleton program.

“I remember we stayed up until two in the morning, it was a very special moment,” Deas said.

“The fact that I saw [Amy] go out and achieve that Olympic medal when I was so early in my career made me really realise that what we were trying to do was possible. 

“It was the same team around me as it was around [Amy] and around Lizzy as well and it definitely gave me the sense that winning an Olympic medal was a reality if I put in the work.”

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Madelaine Smith is another female rising through the ranks at GB Skeleton. 

After a fourth place in the Mixed Team race with rookie Matt Weston at last week’s World Championships, she’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of the women who have come before her. 

“When I first came into the program there were already strong powerful women above me and they’ve been role models for me my whole career so far,” Smith said. 

“I’m fortunate enough that both Lizzy and Laura I got to know very well. 

“Having a strong woman who’s in front of you, always pushing you to be better, pushing you to make your goals and knowing that it is doable and it is possible, it’s just fantastic. 

“They’re not just role models for me anymore, they are my friends and I’m very lucky to have that.”

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Performance Director at British Bobsleigh and Skeleton, Natalie Dunman, says that the program is intentionally female-focused. 

“Sports have traditionally been based on male athletes and adapted them to females and I think we’ve kind of gone the other way round,” Dunman said.

“A lot of the programs and the processes [at British Skeleton] have been built with female athletes in mind, which is different to some other sports.

“We do have staff that are very attuned to working with female athletes and they’re much equals. All our athletes are equal but there is a really big focus on the female program.”