They have five Olympics between them and a cabinet full of world championship, World Cup and European medals, yet Britain’s king and queen of skeleton go into the Sochi Olympics more under the radar than ever before.
The timely rise to prominence of Lizzy Yarnold, whose Olympic build-up was capped with the overall World Cup title last month, has forced the preparations of 41-year-old Kristan Bromley and his partner, 32-year-old Shelley Rudman, into the shadows.
Everyone wants a piece of Yarnold, the skeleton princess who stands on the verge of emulating Vancouver gold medallist Amy Williams by winning the Olympic title.
Bromley and Rudman, the trailblazers in British skeleton for the past decade, have been left alone to scheme and engineer another push for gold all on their own.
“I like being under the radar,” says Bromley, who contests his fourth Olympics after a career in which he has been at the cutting edge of the technological advancements in the sport.
“Going into Turin, there was a lot of weight put on my shoulders. It is hard dealing with that pressure. This one I’m going in with no real emphasis on winning a medal, from anyone. People just want me to be a strong performer.”
Even for Rudman, an Olympic silver medallist eight years ago and who was still winning World Cup and European medals in January, there is a sense that people’s gaze is no longer on her.
“It’s been really nice, I like the fact there isn’t as much pressure on me as there was in Vancouver,” says Rudman, who moved with Bromley to Sheffield shortly after her run to silver in Turin, to tap into the engineering minds in the Steel City and bring them closer to specific coaches.
“Before Turin, I was excited because I didn’t know what to expect. I went to Vancouver ranked No 2 in the world after a great season but, in the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t connect with that track. My performance didn’t reflect my form or my capabilities.
“Lizzy’s rise is really positive for me. I’ve been holding the fort for women’s skeleton for so long. I wanted to take a year out a couple of times but wasn’t able to because we’d lose our quota of World Cup spots so I stuck in there to try and keep the sport going.
“Now the fact that Lizzy is on the scene, and there are others coming through, I feel really proud. If I have an off day now, there’s someone else to hold the fort.”
Rudman and Bromley were speaking at iceSheffield following a training session in which they practised their push-starts on an unused ice rink. It is the kind of innovation and resourcefulness that has been the hallmark of this relentless duo for over a decade.
Ahead of his Olympic debut in Salt Lake City, Bromley – a Lancastrian by birth – drove with his friend to races across Europe in a 4x4, often sleeping on the back seat with his feet hanging out of the window. Rudman paid her own way before breaking through in Turin, spending upwards of £10,000 a year to stay competitive and constantly evolving.
“Both Kristan and I have continued with this sport because we love it,” she says. “It’s a really cool sport; it’s exciting, it’s extreme, it’s technical.”
The technical edge comes from Bromley, a deep thinker about his sport and his sled – often, as he admits, to his own detriment – who earned the name Dr Ice for the technical advancements he brought to the sport between Turin and Vancouver.
Even now, just days before they take to the Sochi shoot for the four runs that could define their careers, he has still been tinkering with the sled.
“All teams are looking for the technology that makes a difference and there’s been an explosion of innovation over the last four years,” he says. “We’re trying to squeeze a hundredth of a second out of every area. But it’s getting harder to find game-changing technology, it’s about small differences all adding up. We still feel we’re at the cutting edge.”
Bromley could have quit after failing to win a medal at his third Olympics four years ago. “It was still there within me, though,” he says, “and I thought if I back out now I’ll always regret it.
“There’s this inside drive to do better all the time. In the Olympic environment, I don’t feel as though I’ve done my best yet. If I can walk away from Sochi thinking you know what, I had four really good, solid runs and I couldn’t have done any better then I will have done my best and I will be happy.
“It’s not just about winning medals, it’s about satisfying that inside drive to be the best you can be; that’s what the Olympics is all about.
“And Shelley’s like me, once there’s a challenge in front of us it’s full throttle to achieve that challenge. We go at things 100 per cent.”
The two have a child together, Ella, whom Bromley says grounds them after a day spent going full throttle down a sheet of ice.
Rudman’s own form has improved since the birth of their six-year-old, and she even won the world championship 12 months ago.
The world of skeleton would be foolish to continue overlooking this driven, admirable duo.