Winter Olympics 2014: Lizzy Yarnold closing in on skeleton gold for Great Britain in Sochi

The 25-year-old edges closer to winning gold today with two runs left

Sochi

Lizzy Yarnold begins the final two runs of the skeleton today, and looks destined to be crowned the winner of the event by 5.30pm this evening.

The 25-year-old Kent slider holds a 0.44sec advantage over American rival Noelle Pikus-Pace, and the British world No 1 is in the form of her life, having won the World Cup last month.

Yarnold will begin the final two runs of the skeleton with the lead over Pikus-Pace. It stretches beyond half a second over Elena Nikitina. In the world of skeleton those are big differences — especially as the Russian finished the first run yesterday 0.05sec short of Yarnold’s benchmark. Yet the world of skeleton is also one where a small slip can have disastrous consequences.

“It is sport,” said Nikitina. “Anything can happen.”

Nikitina’s first run yesterday showed what can happen. The performance of the 21-year-old from Moscow was remarkable. She came 15th at the last world championships — won by Shelley Rudman, who is destined to finish outside the medals here — but has set up camp at Sanki and it showed. So too did her raw power. She was the only woman to go quicker than Yarnold through any of the time checks. On both runs she was the fastest starter but then slowed — if she can maintain her pace then she could threaten.

Anyone who watched any London 2012 event outside the swimming pool knows that home advantage can help athletes achieve the incredible.

Nevertheless Yarnold, the daughter of a farmer whose first sporting love was athletics, should become the Olympic champion. Much will depend on how she deals with a very different pressure.

“I haven’t been thinking about other people’s expectations at all,” said Yarnold. “I think I have such high expectations for myself.”

 

There is reason beyond what it says on the scoreboard to believe Yarnold will complete the two runs with a lead intact. Nobody has ever gone faster than the 78.8mph she recorded on her second run down the world’s longest skeleton course.

She will be watched by her parents, friends and other family; the happy band she likes to call the Yarny Army. Most of them are sporting T-shirts with Yarnold’s face plastered across them and the face of this single-minded young woman, who turned up at a talent spotting contest run by UK Sport five years ago fancying her chances as a modern pentathlete, is likely to become recognised by a much wider audience should things turn out as expected.

But should she need a reminder of how thin the dividing line between gold — and anything less now would be a disappointment — then she only need look to the woman who will proceed her on to the track.

Four years ago Pikus-Pace, who missed the 2006 Games after being hit by a bobsleigh, seemed a sure thing for a medal ahead of the fourth and final run. The 31-year-old made one mistake and it slipped quickly from her grasp.

Rudman, the other Briton in the 20-strong field, lies 11th. The silver medal winner in Turin eight years ago has not had a good week and is nearly one and a half seconds short of the medal positions.

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