Winter Olympics 2014: Lizzy Yarnold takes gold in the skeleton on Valentine’s Day

The 25-year-old Kent slider wins Britain's first gold of the Games

Sanki Sliding Centre

It was the procession on ice, a high-speed dash to Britain’s first gold medal of these Winter Olympics secured by Lizzy Yarnold, a 25-year-old farmer’s daughter from Kent, and delivered with the emphatic certainty of a born champion.

Yarnold began her final two skeleton runs on Friday night with a commanding lead worth nearly half a second. The gold was hers to lose and she never for a moment looked like doing anything other than grabbing it with both hands.

In between her third and fourth runs she waved at the TV cameras and wished watchers a happy Valentine’s Day. For Britain this was a medal from Russia with love.

“I have shown the world what I am capable of,” said Yarnold. “It is lovely it is Valentine’s Day, there’s lots of romance in the air. There are so many people who were part of my journey – I am so chuffed I am Olympic champion!

 

“I believed in myself, I knew I could do it if I put in the hard work and dedication. My message would be follow your dreams, never give up and never limit yourself to what you can achieve.”

She won by a nearly a second, almost double the margin of Amy Williams’s gold-medal winning run in Vancouver four years ago, from the American Noelle Pikus-Pace. It was a commanding performance from an athlete blessed with the clearest of minds.

Even in her celebrations in front of the small grandstand overlooking the finish, where her parents and sisters were sitting, she remained in control, smiling and whooping with joy.

“Lizzy Yarnold is unique,” said Williams. “She has something different within her psychologically. Within five years of starting she has become an Olympic champion, and that is pretty much unheard of in any sport.”

Four years ago, during the previous Winter Games when Williams was taking her gold, Yarnold was ranked the 54th best shot-putter in the UK. An aspiring but run-of-the-mill athlete, she was in the early stages of switching sports, taking the first steps from being a hopeful heptathlete to a sure-thing slider.

“It will not be an easy war,” said Andi Schmid, British Skeleton’s head coach, before the final. For once in this stellar season the Austrian was wrong.

Yarnold dominated the World Cup series and arrived in Sochi as the world No 1. She dominated training and she has dominated the Olympics. Those around her have not noticed a shred of nerves throughout the week.

Yarnold took a lead of 0.44sec into on Friday night and was the first on the ice. She clapped her hands together and set off.

It was the perfect start, her fastest of the final, and she continued in that vein around the 17 curves and 1,500m long track. When she flashed across the blue finish line painted on the ice, the clock stopped at 57.91sec. It was a new course record.

The only two women likely to challenge the Briton followed her onto the track and neither came close. Pikus-Pace crossed 0.78sec adrift and Elena Nikitina, the home favourite, nearly a second behind despite making the quickest start.

Lizzy Yarnold completes her final run in Sochi Lizzy Yarnold completes her final run in Sochi It left Yarnold an hour and a half to wait until her final run, when the gold would finally be hers – barring coming off her sled (called Mervyn after Mervyn Sugden, an underwriter who supported her financially during the fledgling stages of her skeleton career). There was still no sign of nerves for a first-time Olympian, smiling happily as she made her way back to the athletes’ area and waving at the TV cameras.

The second run of 58.09 was more ragged but it was still enough to widen her final lead to 0.97sec.

It is the crowning glory to a modern sporting fairy tale. Six years ago Yarnold had never heard of the sport. She turned up to a talent-spotting day in Bath run by UK Sport wanting to try out modern pentathlon. She was put through a series of tests, not just being made to run, jump and try a push start, but also mental ones.

The resulting letter that arrived at the family home offered her a skeleton trial and enclosed a DVD showing Shelley Rudman winning her silver medal in 2006 and talking about it on breakfast television.

The early years were difficult, both financially and physically. But in 2012 there were signs that it was all coming together. Yarnold won a World Championship bronze and her first World Cup race. This year it all clicked.

“Lizzy is very strong physically and mentally,” said Schmid. “She is talented and understands the reading of the track. She has a great feeling for what is going on down the track.”

It is Yarnold’s total recall that is a key element in her armoury. She is able to recite turn by turn the Sanki track from the moment she leaves the dressing room. She knew the curves and corners she raced around last night at 80mph off by heart.

Yarnold will receive her gold in the Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park this afternoon, only the 10th Britain has collected in the 90-year history of the Winter Olympics and only the fifth won by a British individual. Britain’s last five winter medals have all been won by women – the men have not won one since 1998.

Since skeleton returned to the Games in 2002, British women have won a medal each time: Alex Coomber’s bronze in Salt Lake City, Rudman’s silver in Turin, Williams’s gold in Vancouver – and now Yarnold’s name is added to the honours board.

There is no great secret to this consistency. Like much of Britain’s Olympic success in the Summer Games, it follows a process of rigorous planning and careful athlete identification, and once the success starts there is a momentum: medals bring money bring medals bring more money.

Yarnold, and Williams before her, owe a great deal to Coomber and Rudman, who finished 16th on Friday night. They succeeded despite their circumstances; Yarnold has succeeded because of them.

British Skeleton’s funding for this Olympic cycle was a record £3.5m, having been £2.1m before Vancouver. Now it will rise again.

Read more
Profile: Who is Lizzy Yarnold?
'As good as it gets,' roars Yarnold ahead of golden final day
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
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

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits