Lizzy Yarnold is the Team GB Winter Olympian who LOLs in the face of danger. We had a chat with the Team GB flagbearer to find out more about her crazy sport.
First things first, you move at 90mph lying down on a sled. Which is called Skeleton. That’s really dangerous, isn’t it?
Ha! It’s pretty scary, yep! But this is my job, I train 24/7 and have done for years to perfect the skills required to make it down the track safely.
Do you ever get scared?
Every time I get to a track and need to do my first runs for the year, I become really nervous. Once I’ve been down once and I remember what is difficult about that particular track, which bits are easy, then I switch into a process mode. I go through my check list of everything I need to do and it becomes a bit less scary.
What goes through your mind when you’re hurtling along on a Skeleton run?
I steer with my head, shoulders, knees and toes – a whole body sport even though I’m lying down! I steer up to five times in each corner so there is a lot to remember. It is a really technical sport and like Formula 1, every track is different. I have to think about how the run is going in real time. The tiniest movement can cause a bad line, and that in turn will impact the next corner you head into (at 90mph!) so you have to be always thinking ahead of what corrections you need to make.
When did you first realise that you were attracted to that kind of thing?
My Dad tells a story when we were young and skiing for the first time – he lost me on a run and didn’t realise I had gone off ahead of him and just headed straight down, no turning! Apart from that though, I lead a pretty non-dangerous life outside of skeleton.
How did you get to do Skeleton – tell us about the journey?
I loved athletics and specialised in the heptathlon, but unfortunately realised in my teens that I would never be good enough to reach the Olympics.
I was at Uni when my friend saw an advert for a talent search called ‘Girls for Gold’ so we went along and took part in lots of physical tests. I was amazed when I got selected for the sport of ‘skeleton’. I had never heard of the sport before! The next few months we were put through more physical and mental tests and taken out to Norway to go down the ice for the first time. I was chuffed when I got through the whole selection process and became a member of the British Skeleton Talent Development Squad.
How much of skeleton is about you and how much is about your sled? Is it a bit like F1 where the cars play a huge role in success?
Success in skeleton is a boiling pot of team work; great coaching, the best equipment in the world, and a lot of practise and failing. The sled itself is crucial to my performance, I am very connected to the sled when I compete and know what I need to do to steer the correct way, at the right moment, at 90mph. But the sled wouldn’t be a great sled without me either. It’s a team effort.
Is there anything that does actually make you scared?
Not doing my best makes me scared – I always want to be the best version of myself I can.
Would you describe yourself as an adrenaline junkie?
Not really, I listen to The Archers!
What else do you do with yourself when you’re not doing Skeleton?
I am pretty boring! I love cooking, knitting, hanging out with my friends and family. I miss my book club when I’m away.
What’s your favourite ride at an amusement park?
Teacups – I love tea!
What’s the last thing you watched on Netflix?
What’s the last app you downloaded on your phone?
You’re trying to become the first Briton to ever defend a Winter Olympic title in February – how does that make you feel?
Busy! There is a lot of paperwork and technical preparation before a race, before training has started, in fact. Remembering what worked for me last year at a track, what my tactics will be this year, and how I can get better. I’m really excited to be picked to compete at my second Olympics and I’m extremely focussed on defending my title.