'Being an Olympian feels incredible' – Amy Williams remembers Winter Games gold and backs Team GB for record haul

Exclusive interview: The 2010 skeleton gold medallist will be in the commentary box in 2018 to watch her successor Lizzy Yarnold but still misses the feeling of competing with the world's elite

Lawrence Ostlere
Friday 02 February 2018 18:55 GMT
Amy Williams: 'I can’t wait to watch Elise Christie. I’m nervous even thinking about it'
Amy Williams: 'I can’t wait to watch Elise Christie. I’m nervous even thinking about it'

Amy Williams still misses the feeling. Not the adrenaline rush, or the first time she felt a medal pull at her neck. She misses how it made her feel to walk among Olympians as one of them and know she was exceptional.

It is eight years since Williams tore across the ice in Whistler to win skeleton gold. Now she is flying to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics as a commentator. She is looking forward to watching the Games unfold; it’s just not quite the same.

“When you’re at an Olympic Games, you know everyone there is the best in the world. That is an amazing feeling,” Williams says. “Even when you walk into a food hall and you’ve got all nations, all sports from ice hockey to ice dancers, you look around and think ‘Everyone here is at the top of their game and the best in their country’. That’s an incredible feeling knowing you’re part of that.”

Williams more than held her own in their company. She was the first Briton to win an individual Winter Olympics title for 30 years, and Team GB’s only medal in Vancouver. Britain didn’t really do snow and ice – how do you compete with Alpine nations, Scandanavia, North America?

Since then things have shifted a little. First at Sochi, where Britain equalled their record Winter medal haul of four, and now ambitions have been set at a record-breaking five with the possibility of success in disciplines at which Britain does not typically excel, particularly on snow.

Williams is convinced they can break new ground. “We are taking our biggest ever team, our strongest ever team, and I think we’ve got the most amount of potential. I think it’s pretty exciting to see how we’ve come over the past few years and over our Olympic cycles.

“There are a group of athletes who, on their day, can help us hit our medal target. We’ve got the ability and the skills in these athletes and for a lot of them now it will be their second and third Olympic cycle. They’ve got that experience behind them.”

Amy Williams won skeleton gold at the Vancouver Games (Getty Images)

One of those is Elise Christie. The speed skater suffered heartbreak four years ago when she was disqualified from the 500m, 1000m and 1500m races, and Williams is desperate for Christie to make up for it in Pyeongchang. “I can’t wait to watch her. I’m nervous even thinking about it. Four years ago she should have won but there were a few crashes, disqualifications. She deserves to win medals this time.”

And then there is the 35-year-old Williams’ own event, skeleton, a test of speed, precision and fearlessness. It holds something of a cult status within British sport with a medal won at all six Games in which it has featured, going back to 1928.

Most recently was Lizzy Yarnold, the successor to Williams’ Olympic title. After glory in Sochi, Yarnold took time out to plan a wedding, move house and even take up lampshade-making. On her return she was diagnosed with vestibular disorder, which causes spells of dizziness, and Williams is understandably cautious over Yarnold’s chances this time around. “On current form she hasn’t obviously had quite as good a season as past years. Whether it’s just because she’s testing out equipment – sometimes you have to sacrifice races to do that. But we know she steps up, she always ups the anti when it comes to a major championships and thrives off the pressure.”

She says the 29-year-old Laura Deas could be better placed to claim Britain’s third successive women’s skeleton title. “Laura is ranked sixth in the world and is that little bit of an outsider. She’s never quite done it but she’s got a phenomenal start. Which one of them will hold it together? I hope one of them can and you can argue Laura is closer to being consistent than Lizzy. But Lizzy has the fight.”

The fight is something Williams would love to be involved in herself, and she fondly recalls the mental combat with her own mind. “The psychology aspect is pretty major. When a track has got one tricky corner that’s incredibly fast you have to battle those demons – ‘this is scary, I could get hurt’. You’ve got to put that at the back of your head and go through it mentally. You have to be tough and strong and find a strategy for what works for you.”

Instead, she will have to watch on from the not so exhilarating safety of the commentary box. It's not quite the same, but Williams is determined to savour what she is adamant will be a hugely successful Winter Olympic Games. “I was over there for the torch relay and everyone was so enthusiastic about it. There was quite an energy around the Olympic flame. As hosts I think they will be phenomenal. I think they’re going to put on a brilliant Games.”

Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams MBE will join the BBC Commentary Team for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. For more information visit www.amywilliams.com and follow Amy on Twitter @AmyWilliamsMBE.

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