Winter Olympics 2014: ‘As good as it gets’ – British skeleton bob hope Lizzy Yarnold roars ahead to set up golden day

The Brit will head down the track two more times tomorrow afternoon in her bid to win gold

Sochi

From the British quarters in the Olympic Mountain Village, the top of the scoreboard at the Sanki Sliding Centre a little way down the hillside is visible. It will make good reading for Lizzy Yarnold when she wakes up on Friday morning. When she gets up on Saturday morning it may well make perfect reading.

Yarnold takes a lead worth nearly half a second over the American Noelle Pikus-Pace into Friday evening’s final two runs of the skeleton. This is a dangerous sport where disaster is only ever one minor slip, one blinked lack of concentration away – Pikus-Pace lost what seemed a certain medal four years ago on the final run – but on the evidence of Thursday’s two sorties down the course a British gold, only the 10th in the 90 years of the Winter Olympics, will be won on Friday – even if it will not be placed around Yarnold’s neck until Saturday evening.

All medal ceremonies take place at a special venue down in the main Olympic Park, so evening medals won in the mountains – an hour up the road – are not handed out until the following day. It is, of course, premature to fetch the Union flag from the Medal Plaza locker, although a prudent planner might at least check that one is in stock because Yarnold will take some stopping.

The 25-year-old from Kent arrived here as the best in the world and has continued in that vein since the practice runs began. She started the final as the woman to beat. Britain’s Alex Coomber had done likewise in 2002 only to finish third and collect a what-might-have-been bronze.

 

The gold medal is hers to lose. The main danger will simply be the occasion – it is a prize that she desperately wants, and has wanted ever since her days as a run-of-the-mill heptathlete. Now it is so close, can she keep the steely, obsessive focus that has marked her progress up the world rankings?

“It’s going to give Lizzy so much confidence,” said Amy Williams, who won gold in this event four years ago, Britain’s last Winter Olympic success. “There is no reason she can’t win gold.”

Williams stressed the need for consistency and the comforting element for Yarnold, a naturally confident athlete, is that consistency has marked her season. She finished on the podium in seven of the eight World Cup races, her sole absence coming when she needed only to cross the finish line to clinch the title and the world No 1 spot.

That ranking allowed her to choose her starting place for the first run on Thursday. She settled on second, allowing Pikus-Pace to set the pace. The American world No 2 stopped the clock at 58.68sec. Moments later, Yarnold had lowered that by a quarter of a second. She gave a cheery wave to the crowd and disappeared inside the clubhouse.

One by one her usual rivals failed to challenge her, including Shelley Rudman, who was to end the day 11th, nearly one and a half seconds outside the medals. There was, though, a known unknown; the whisper all week around Sanki had been “watch out for the Russians”. The three home hopes have been based here for most of the season, practising run after run down what is the longest course in the world.

On Thursday night, the Australians protested to the sport’s governing body, claiming the home sliders had an unfair advantage because foreigners had not been allowed to spend as much time on the course. It was briskly dismissed.

This is not a fast track – the faster the better suits Yarnold – and familiarity with its twists, turns and 19 corners offers an advantage. But what sits in Britain’s favour is that having no home course requires an ability to adapt; Yarnold in particular is able to programme the curves and contours into her memory.

Elena Nikitina delivered the surprise run that wasn’t really anything of the sort. She recorded a first run only 0.05sec slower than Yarnold. Second time around, though, the Russian slowed down – as did Yarnold but only by 0.03sec on her first run. Pikus-Pace picked up her speed to reclaim second place and is 0.44sec behind Yarnold.

“It’s a nice place to be,” said Nigel Laughton, Britain’s skeleton performance director. “In this sport it’s a good lead but it’s not insurmountable and she needs to be on the mark. She’s an ultimate professional and she will come out with everything to prove.”

Yarnold was in a good place. “I was relaxed as soon as I got to the track,” she said. “Once I started, everything felt so natural and I loved it. It’s as good as it gets really.” It might be even better on Friday.


Watch the opening ceremony of the most lavish games in history, costing an estimated $51bn

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism