Winning one Olympic gold medal puts an athlete in a rarefied category, but successfully defending that title is a mark of true sporting greatness. No Briton has ever achieved such a feat in a winter Games but Lizzy Yarnold, an athlete with unceasing self-belief, hopes she can confound all the doubters to join this most elite of clubs.
“Yes, it’s a very lovely thing to dream of, going to Pyeongchang to retain my title, and I’d really love to make history,” says the 29-year-old from Sevenoaks, who won gold in the skeleton bobsleigh in Sochi four years ago.
“But I’m lucky to just be able to dream of it. It’s been four more years of really hard work, planning and commitment, so hopefully I can do it again. I believe I can.”
Listening to Yarnold is to recognise someone who knows that anything is possible in sport, even the fanciful idea that a girl picked from a talent programme could speed from beginner to Olympic, world, European and World Cup champion in five years.
It was a story to capture imaginations. That of the ultra-competitive, fearless figure who careers head-first down a twisting chute at nearly 90mph on her trusty sled ‘“Mervyn”, her nose just three inches from the ice — but who, at home, chills out by knitting and listening to The Archers.
Yet a second gold would be far more remarkable, because it’s not been an easy path since 2014. When Yarnold took a season off, Welsh slider Laura Deas usurped her as GB’s number one; Yarnold also battled an inner-ear problem that can affect her balance and orientation while she’s being subjected to the skeleton’s G-forces.
“It can’t be improved or changed, but it’s not scary and, luckily, it hasn’t affected me in any races this season, only in training — and I now know how to deal with it. In Pyeongchang, where I’ve done about 30 runs down the track, it’s never affected me. So that’s really positive.
“I have complete confidence in my own ability and total confidence in my team, too.” (Sure enough, she seemed to be sliding into form at just the right time when Lizzy finished fourth in her final World Cup race of the year before Pyeongchang.)
In Sochi, a big part of Team Lizzy was her sled co-designer, engineer James Roche, who has since become her husband. He’s now a part of Ben Ainslie’s yacht racing team, but remains a huge source of support. “I can have technical conversations with him, which is really helpful,” Yarnold smiles.
After a great career, could this be her final race? “I don’t think it would be advisable going into a race thinking it’s your last,” she says. “Everything I’m doing is focused on Pyeongchang — and then I’m going to take a couple of weeks off, chill out a bit and think of the future. But it isn’t going to be my last hurrah. Absolutely not.” Interview by Ian Chadband
What time is Lizzy Yarnold competing in the Winter Olympics, and how can I watch her on TV?
The first two runs will take place on Friday, with the final two runs taking place on Saturday 17th February when the medals will be decided. Those final heats will begin at 11.20am live on BBC1 and Eurosport 1.