There can be few things scarier than skeleton.
Sliding down hill, over ice, on a piece of plastic with a couple of metal runners, inches off the ground, at 90 miles an hour and with a force of 5Gs (just in case you wonder how much that is, then astronauts suffer about 3.5Gs on the space shuttle), it’s hard to see the fun.
Yet listen to Lizzy Yarnold and Donna Creighton as they prepare for the World Championships in Konigssee, Germany and you don’t get any sense this is anything other than pleasurable. Yarnold is all sparkle, her enthusiasm bubbling over like a sixth-form prefect motivating the wide-eyed junior third eleven at hockey. Creighton, the longest serving member of the GB women’s skeleton team, more restrained and laid-back, but no less enthusiastic.
Why do it?
Creighton tackles the ‘why’ question head on. “I didn’t know much about the sport when I first got involved. I was at Yeovil College in 2004 and I went along to a talent identification day. Up until then I had been a heptathlete, but I thought I would give it a try.
“My first experience was at Lillehammer in Norway. To begin with, over the first week, I absolutely hated it. But then gradually the adrenalin buzz begins to kick in. It’s like being on the biggest roller coaster ever. You get bruised and bumped around and of course it can be scary but there is also a big enjoyment as well. Soon you want to get a better time, to go faster and you develop a big desire to improve”.
Why come back?
With World and Olympic champion Yarnold just back from a year off, her questions are more designed to test: is the commitment still there? “I’m just so happy to be back, especially being part of the team”, she states with an intensity that could leave few in any doubt of her desire.
“After the World Championships in 2015 I was just struggling to have enough energy. So I had to take time off to become a better athlete. Sochi (the last Winter Olympics) and the gold medal were very successful but I’m a very process-driven person and into detail, so there will always be elements that can be improved upon. So far, since I have been back, if you looked at a spreadsheet of my results they wouldn’t look impressive but I know my performances have been getting better.
“For the Worlds at least Konigsee is a track I’m familiar wi.th.It’s quite an intense short track and you have to be right on your game on the day. It’s a track where anything can happen but it’s a good track to have the championships at and it’s great for spectators
So with the next Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, is she looking ahead to 2018 or as in football parlance, simply ‘taking one slide at a time’. Yarnold leans forward, her eyes gleaming. “I have this app on my phone which shows to the second the count down to the Olympics. I have planned out my whole life up to PyeongChang. It would be such a juicy goal to be the first British Winter Olympian to retain my title. In the back of my mind? No, the Olympics are always in the front of my mind”.