Yarnold joins pantheon of Olympic heroes with golden ride in Sochi

Golden girl Lizzy Yarnold.
Golden girl Lizzy Yarnold.
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Lizzy Yarnold underlined Great Britain’s prowess at women’s bob skeleton with a dominant performance to strike gold at the Sanki Sliding Centre in Sochi.

The 25-year-old from Kent placed herself on the short roll call of British Winter Olympic champions, two of which have come in this event.

Dating back to Alex Coomber’s bronze in 2002, Britain have medalled in women’s skeleton in every Olympics this century, with Shelley Rudman winning silver in Turin and Amy Williams gold in Vancouver.

Yarnold’s victory over the last two days was even more emphatic than Williams’s four years ago as she led from the very first leg and even broke the track record on the way to securing victory by 0.97 seconds from American Noelle Pikus-Pace.

“I’m just so chuffed I’m Olympic champion,” said Yarnold, who only joined the British Olympic programme in Bath following the last Games.

“I just believed in myself and put in a lot of hard work and dedication before I came here.

“I don’t think it’s going to sink in for a long time.

“The fourth run I was totally relaxed and went out and enjoyed it. It was a bit of a messy run, but I’m thrilled to get here after working so hard for the past five years, which makes it all worth it.

“I’m pleased that I could show the world what I’m capable of. I wanted to do myself justice and I can’t believe I have. My mum, dad and sisters are here and I couldn’t have done it without them or the Team GB skeleton team.”

Yarnold smashed the track record in her third run to move over three quarters of a second clear of Pikus-Pace. And she clocked 58.09 seconds on her fourth and final run which – such was the lead she had built – was almost like a lap of honour.

Yarnold had gone into the final two runs at the Sanki Sliding Centre with a commanding 0.44- second advantage over the field.

Despite inevitable fears of how she might cope with the pressure of holding such a big overnight lead, she responded with a fantastic run when she went first in the third run as night fell over the Caucasus mountains.

She then celebrated her title-winning run by running towards the British fans in the crowd holding aloft the Union Jack and beaming with joy.

Her parents Clive and Judith, her two sisters Katie and Charlotte, and her boyfriend James Roche – who is a sled technician with the British bobsleigh team – were present to witness her famous triumph.

Yarnold’s victory justifies her status as the strongest British favourite for a Winter Olympic gold medal since Torvill and Dean triumphed in Sarajevo 30 years ago to the day.

She only took up the sport six years ago, but had already won a junior world title and claimed the overall World Cup title this season by winning four of seven races.

Rudman, the World Cup bronze medallist, was one of the first to congratulate her team-mate after her own campaign ended in 16th place, over three and a half seconds down, as she struggled to get a grip of the technical Sochi track.

Rudman was part of the ‘Girls4Gold’ programme in 2008 that helped identify the promise of the then 19-year-old Yarnold.

Rudman’s partner Kristan Bromley sits eighth after two runs of the men’s skeleton going into this afternoon’s decisive final day.

The 41-year-old – Britain’s oldest competitor in Sochi – is striving for the one medal to have eluded him throughout his career.

The man known as Dr Ice because he designs his own sleds, heads into the final day with a glimmer of hope mainly because the experience gained from years of sliding helped him to improve drastically between runs yesterday.

He hit the wall coming off turn 11 – as most sliders have this week – in stopping the clock at 57.24 in his first run. That left him more than 1.29 seconds down on leader Alexander Tretiakov of Russia.

But the Sheffield resident’s second run was far smoother as he stopped the clock at 57.02 for a combined run of 1:54.26, which moved him up to eighth, above team-mate Dominic Parsons.

He said: “The first run I made a couple of mistakes but I corrected those for the second run and I was more competitive.

“I just had a bit too much height in turn 11 and that cost me a couple of tenths, otherwise I’d be further up the leaderboard.

“I’m pleased with where I am and I feel that I can only improve.

“It’s coming. I’m always at a disadvantage at the start but I can pull it back down the track with my driving. I just need to get better on each run and let’s see where that takes me and whether I can push into the top six.”

Bromley was also asked for his thoughts on the controversy that is circling Sochi concerning the Russian team’s private push-track at the top of the sliding centre.

The track was the subject of a formal protest by the Australian team at the end of the two women’s heats over claims it breached rules which do not allow facilities within Olympic venues to be used exclusively.

The protest was rejected by a race jury which deemed the track was outside the Olympic perimeter, and Bromley said: “Having a push-track I could warm up on before a race would be fantastic.

“We’ve got a tartan running track where we can warm up with spikes, so that in itself is brilliant. So for me it’s not so much of an issue, but I can understand why (for others) it is an issue.”

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk