Winter Olympics 2014: 'If we can connect and inspire people, job done', says Team GB's sole gold medal winner in Sochi Lizzy Yarnold

Stopping for pictures in central London and talent-spotting GB's next skeleton stars is all in a day's work for the gold medal winner

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you are between 18 and 25 with an athletic background, don't mind appearing on TV sofas at seven in the morning, hanging out in Parliament Square doing radio interviews, oh, and flying down ice gullies at nuclear speed, then pop along to the Sports Village at Bath University this spring, there could be an Olympic gold medal in it for you.

You might even get to meet the golden girl herself. Yes, Lizzy Yarnold, who made the same move five years ago to set in train a process that led to her stunning success in Sochi, hopes to check out some of the new prospects at the next phase of British skeleton's talent identification programme at dates to be announced next week. That ought to be motivation enough for any.

Yarnold returned from Sochi on Monday into the arms of her mother, Judith, and a string of media engagements, including breakfast television, illustrating how life for the nation's favourite daughter changed irrevocably at the Sanki Sliding Centre. Such is her giving nature, she views the demands on her time, which began last weekend with a mad round-trip from Sochi to London and back for 15 minutes on Jonathan Ross's settee, as an obligation she must meet, night or day.

"I had to take the opportunity to go on the show. It is great exposure for us Olympians to tell people about the sport in a slightly different light than a sporting context. I was staying between the Millennium Bridge and the London Eye. It was about 11.30am and I wandered along in very inconspicuous clothing with my medal tucked under my T-shirt, where it always is in case I lose it.

"A little girl came up to me and said, 'Excuse me, are you the Olympian Lizzy?' It was such a shock. I said, 'How on earth did you recognise me?' We stopped for a little chat. A few more people started coming towards me for a few more pictures. It does start to mean so much more when you realise that you have had an impact on their lives and that they have remembered you, that you won your race, gave it everything for GB. It was their win as well as mine.

"Later on I was getting picked up in Parliament Square and a French lady came over to me. Unfortunately I can't speak French. Her daughter translated. You realise it is not only children that it means something to, it's adults, too, and not just British. It's international. Signing autographs in the middle of London is new to me, but wonderful."

The memory of her first Olympic experience is etched indelibly, each nip and tuck, every twist and turn, every second lost and gained. "Coming into the four-run race is always challenging compared to the normal World Cup set-up. We had the overnight stay when I was in the 44 hundredths [0.44 sec ahead]. I always remember these numbers. I was desperate to keep improving my performance. I wasn't there only to win gold but to do myself justice, to give my best. Coming into the second day I just wanted to put in a really solid run. When the lead went to 78 hundredths I could start to relax a little bit."

So what does it take to do a Yarnold? To judge by the powerful, vascular outline of her neck and shoulders the gym is an obvious place to start. There is also an otherness about her, an earnest quality and sense of authority and commitment. If you don't have that, better to stay away.

"I missed my sister's birthday five years running," she said. "I made a lot of sacrifices. You can't get to the Olympics without giving it everything. Amy [Williams, who won Olympic skeleton gold in 2010] taught me early on that she was a normal person but that she never ever gave up and was so determined in every single training session. That's what you need to be Olympic champion. It doesn't happen when you get to the Games, it happens in the weeks, months and years leading up."

In the age of the £300,000-a-week footballer, the appeal of Lizzy Yarnold and her ilk is blindingly clear. They share the same ambitions, the same electric differences, the same freakish talent for their trade as the Übermenschen of the beautiful game, but come without that tiresome sense of entitlement or bombast.

"The Olympics is so very special," Yarnold said. "We receive Lottery funding so there is a connection with everyone who is buying a ticket. I couldn't train full-time without the British public. So I'm very proud of all the sportsmen and women who compete at the Olympics and if we can connect and inspire people to take up a sport regardless of what it is, then that is my job done."

See you all down there!