How key rivalry kept Britain on track for medals

Date:9th December 2015. picture James Hardisty.'Amy Williams, Winter Olympic Skeleton Champion Gold Medallist 2010.
Date:9th December 2015. picture James Hardisty.'Amy Williams, Winter Olympic Skeleton Champion Gold Medallist 2010.
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SOMERSET-based Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams is not too familiar with Yorkshire, yet is very familiar with one county native in particular.

It was Sheffield’s Shelley Rudman that kept Williams out of the 2006 Turin Winter Games.

Amy Williams celebrates her gold medal win.

Amy Williams celebrates her gold medal win.

Rudman went on to bag a skeleton silver while Williams commentated on the achievement for TV. It figures then, that Yorkshire actually proved rather important in the Bath athlete’s development with the disappointment of Turin playing a part in triggering Vancouver gold four years later.

Williams is now three years into her enforced retirement through injury with the 33-year-old embarking on a TV career and a regular on Channel 5’s The Gadget Show.

Yet it was her achievements at the 2010 Winter Olympics that has made that move possible with the athlete’s gold-medal winning performance in the women’s skeleton event transforming her into a household name.

Williams broke the track record twice en route to becoming Great Britain’s first Winter Olympics individual gold medallist in 30 years and the first winning female for 52.

Yet she still vividly remembers the disappointment of being edged out for Turin four years earlier by Rudman with whom a rivalry has been hugely important for both Williams individually and the sport as a whole.

Williams told The Yorkshire Post: “Our sport has developed massively from the Turin Games when we only had one competitor so I was a reserve and Shelley went. That was tough, it was hard but you accept it and I learnt from it.

“I was in Turin doing the commentating and it just put a fire in my belly that I was never going to watch another Olympic Games. I was going to compete.

“For four years, my whole entire life was blinkered, dedicated because I knew as Great Britain improved we would qualify for two places. Mine and Shelley’s results over the next few years enabled us to have two places in Vancouver. Then our results there enabled more still so that’s been great in terms of the history of me and Shelley being competitive.

“If we hadn’t have medalled in Vancouver, the sport wasn’t going to be funded any more. We knew we had to medal in Vancouver to keep the funding and, for example, to be getting Lizzy Arnold the money to go to the next Games in Sochi. It was really important that someone got a medal in Vancouver just to keep the next generation going.”

Sochi skeleton champion Yarnold heads that new generation and like Williams ended up excelling at a winter sport upon switching from a summer one.

Yarnold, 27, used to be a javelin thrower while Williams was formerly a 400m runner who ended up trying her hand at something different after visiting the skeleton push track in her home town of Bath.

The rest, as they say, is history though for the 2010 heroine there is a definite case of what might have been.

“I retired in April, 2012 so I was 31 but I don’t have any regrets,” said Williams. “It was my body that stopped me.

“I have had four knee ops, my latest one only six months ago and I’ve got a lot of disc problems so I had epidurals twice a year and nerve blocks and I haven’t been able to feel one of my legs for years. I was in agony every single day.

“If it wasn’t for the pain I was in every day I wanted to be the first person to get two medals and I really believed I could get another medal.

“I’d clicked my code, things had worked and I’d worked out stuff but I was in agony every day so I needed to stop so I don’t regret it at all.

“But it’s been emotional, especially when I was at Sochi because I was commentating. Lizzie had won but I wanted to be there competing like old mates.

“But then because I believed so much I could have got another medal it gave me the guts to be like ‘I know what I believe inside and my body is more important’.”

Thankfully, Williams will always have the glorious memory of Vancouver 2010 to cherish and sport’s loss has been television’s gain.

Relishing her role on The Gadget Show whilst still committed to winter sports commentary, Williams has plenty to savour at present – and also had the ultimate celebration this summer. Williams and soldier fiance Craig Ham tied the knot in August after meeting on dating network Tinder, hardly the obvious place to find pretty, single Olympic champions.

It means Williams now has a partner to reflect on her Vancouver glories with, and rest assured there is a special celebration every year.

Williams pondered: “For a gold medallist, I think I was Britain’s first individual woman for 52 and first individual for 30.

“I think it was Clare Balding that told me that fact when I walked through the media zone after the race. You don’t even think about it.

“You are just in that little whirlwind but every year on my medals anniversary – a couple of days after the race – I always open up a bottle of champagne. I am just toasting the birthday of the medal.”

To that, Yorkshire will raise a glass as well.

Amy Williams was interviewed at the Jacuzzi showroom in Leeds. Jacuzzi is the official sponsor of seven races in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup 2015! For more visit Jacuzzi.co.uk.