Lizzy and Laura aiming to run away with skeleton medals

Lizzy Yarnold carries the national flag during the opening ceremony (Credit: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports)

Reigning skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold is looking to make history in PyeongChang by becoming the first ever British athlete to defend their title at a Winter Olympics.

Her campaign begins on Friday (16 February), with the final two runs scheduled for Saturday, as she aims to peak at the right time following her return to the sport little over a year ago.

One of Lizzy’s biggest competitors will be Laura Deas, representing Team GB at her debut Olympics, who is eager to break through onto the podium.

Lizzy secured a fourth-placed finish in Königssee to end a World Cup season which brought a single bronze medal in Lake Placid, while Laura finished seventh in the overall standings in her best year yet.

Team GB’s hopes of maintaining its record of winning a medal in skeleton at every Olympics, since its re-introduction in Salt Lake City in 2002, remain particularly promising after both Lizzy and Laura posted impressive times during their training runs earlier this week.

“It’s certainly been an up-and-down season, but it’s a reminder that sport is challenging and anything can happen,” said Lizzy.

“I’ve just had to focus on remembering that I’m good at doing this. I’m more relaxed and confident in myself now, perhaps just being back at the Olympics just makes me happier and settled. I’ve never taken my eyes off the prize here, no matter what the results were saying. I’ve always said this season was about being good in PyeongChang, nothing else matters.”

Laura said: “I would be disappointed if I left without a medal, that’s just a fact. Lizzy and I are both super-competitive and there’s no doubt that when we’re on the track we are competing against each other.

“That doesn’t mean when we’re finished for the day we don’t sit and discuss it because we do. This is a big moment for her but my entire career has been building towards this race too. I’m incredibly proud to become an Olympian but I want to go one step further and be a medallist as well.”

Team GB’s Laura Deas (Credit: Action Images)

Lizzy and Laura, who first tried skeleton in 2008 and 2009 respectively, are both products of UK Sport’s Girls4Gold talent search scheme.

They were also recipients of support from TASS earlier in their careers. Lizzy studied Geography and Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Gloucestershire and benefited from the services provided by TASS as she balanced her education and sporting endeavours.

She was backed by TASS between 2009 and 2012 while Laura had help from the scheme in 2010 before SportsAid awards gave her a boost in 2013 and 2014.

Laura had always seen winning a medal at PyeongChang as a long-term aim while also having a strong appetite to consistently vie for podium finishes on the World Cup circuit.

She was extremely praiseworthy of SportsAid and the support she had been given by the charity – including the opportunity to attend athlete workshops.

“Six thousand pounds is a conservative estimate of the annual cost of my day-to-day living and travel expenses,” revealed Laura during an interview in 2014. “In addition, my housing costs that enable me to live near the national training centre are another £7,000 per year.

“My SportsAid award enables me to maximise my training and especially my recovery as I currently have to work part-time. This often has an impact on the quality of my recovery and sometimes the quality of my training.

“It’s been absolutely vital to have that support, not only from a financial point of view, but also to have the confidence that someone is backing you. The workshops we had all added to that feeling of being backed and that people believed in you.

“It’s difficult to quantify it but it’s extremely valuable. The money is very important from a practical point of view but it’s also the feeling of knowing that someone has noticed the work you are doing and that you will get there, it’s only a matter of time.”

Laura added: “There’s maybe a bit of a misconception that athletes don’t need the help but, speaking personally, it’s been extremely important to me.

“To know that people are going out of their way to raise money to help the next generation of athletes is really important and I’m extremely grateful that people are taking the time to do that because it does make the difference between being able to pursue your dreams and do sport at the highest level, and not being able to do that.”

Prior to skeleton, Lizzy was a heptathlete while Laura competed in hockey, equestrian and tetrathlon – a variant of the modern pentathlon without fencing.

Their transitions into skeleton can act as huge inspiration for young athletes considering pursuing alternative avenues.

They have both demonstrated the potential there is to represent Great Britain at the very top-end of sport with the right levels of drive, determination and focus accompanied by appropriate and meaningful support.