Winter Olympic champion Amy Williams on how technology helped her victory

Amy Williams, Winter Olympic Skeleton Champion Gold Medallist 2010.
Amy Williams, Winter Olympic Skeleton Champion Gold Medallist 2010.

Winter Olympic gold-medallist Amy Williams is appearing at a Yorkshire festival next month to talk about how technology helped her in her sport. Laura Drysdale reports.

The only British medallist in Vancouver nine years ago, Amy Williams was thrust into the spotlight overnight as the nation’s golden girl.

Her gold medal winning skeleton race saw her become the first GB individual to take any top spot at a Winter Olympics for 30 years and earned her an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours following her victory.

Representing her country at the Games was the pinnacle of her sporting career. “You want to do yourself proud and your team proud and also your nation proud,” she says.

“You are representing everyone. And then to know that your name was down in the history books, it felt very special.”

Despite the much-celebrated victory, the 36-year-old maintains she has remained grounded. “In one sense, it didn’t [change anything] at all,” she says. “Everyone who knows me says ‘you are the same person’ and ‘you haven’t changed’.

“On the other side, you come home and are invited to lots of events and you are in the space to inspire the next generation of athletes.

“All of a sudden people know you, follow you and inspire to be the same thing. You have got a massive responsibility but at the same time day to day I am just a full time mum looking after a toddler doing jobs like everyone else. It’s two sides of the coin.”

Since retiring as an athlete two years after her 2010 glory, Amy, who has son Oscar, two, with partner Craig Ham, has turned her hand to television presenting, ambassador work and public speaking - and next month will be among those appearing at Leeds International Festival.

On May 10, during her rare visit to Yorkshire, she will participate in a conference exploring how technology can affect sport for the world’s best athletes.

She will talk about how it helped her in a competition where every 100th of a second counts.

“You still have got to have the skill of the person,” she says. “But technology can make you faster, whether that is in clothing design, in your nutrition or in a sport such as ours when your equipment is massive.”

It is something that Amy knows all too well. The other “member” of her medal-winning “duo” was her trusty 33kg sled, affectionately nicknamed ‘Arthur’. “You rely on your sled and your sled gets you down,” she says.

It was designed by University of Southampton students Rachel Blackburn and James Roche, who are also responsible for the sled - ‘Mervyn’ - of double Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold, and was the culmination of a four year innovative science, technology and engineering project which aimed to put British athletes at the cutting edge of the sport.

Amy, who became the first-ever female Freeman of the City of Bath, her home-town, also recalls using video technology to help learn the best line to take through corners of tracks. Software enabled footage showing athletes manoeuvring the corners to be layered over each other, which could then be used for analysis.

“You can see for example from corner one to six I am losing time and then look at why am I losing time? You have video cameras and can compare yourself to other people and see what you could do differently.

“You are talking centimetres of angles at 80 to 90 miles per hour so it is a lot of trial and error.”

In her view, technology can mean the difference between winning and losing, but it comes with a caveat. “It can make such a massive difference to a performance,” she says. “But it still has to work right and fit in with you as an athlete and that can take a long time.”

Leeds International Festival takes place from May 2 to 12. Visit leedsinternationalfestival.com