Olympic biathlete Amanda Lightfoot benefits from TASS partnership

Amanda Lightfoot trains during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics (Credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

From Sanddancer to snow queen, Amanda Lightfoot’s unlikely ascent to biathlon’s elite level is an inspirational tale. The TASS-supported soldier reveals all.

Deep snow and the Tyneside town of South Shields are uncommon bedfellows. “Growing up there I saw the odd sprinkle once in a blue moon,” explained international biathlete Amanda Lightfoot as she recalled her formative years. “I never saw real snow growing up. Consequently, becoming a professional skier simply wasn’t on my radar.”

Perhaps not. But Amanda did the next best thing during her ‘rollerblade’ phase. “I got a pair for my birthday once and never took them off. I lived on them for a while.

I used to rollerblade into the house, eat my dinner and then rollerblade straight back out again!”

That sensation of being carried along off her feet stuck with Amanda but she finally outgrew the rollerblades, the bleak midwinters never arrived and that unlikely date with Winter Olympic destiny seemed further away than ever.

It was only when the serving solider took a trip to Scandinavia that she drifted towards a pair of skis for the first time. “My first skiing experience was in Norway in Lillehammer,” she added. “I went on adventure training with the Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC) Ladies Nordic Army team and that’s when I was first introduced to the sport of biathlon. From the first day it was just challenge after challenge to stay on my feet and become better. Once I started to improve it quickly became my passion.”

Passionate and committed, Amanda made giant strides as a biathlete. Nevertheless, her rapid rise from complete novice to elite international within six years was a stunning achievement. “I never imagined I would represent my country, let alone perform at successive Winter Olympics,” added British biathlon’s top female performer. “I remember watching the Games back in 2010 and saying to myself ‘ok, four years of hard work Amanda and you could be there’. I think that was the first time it had crossed my mind.

“But I am definitely the type of girl who, once I’ve decided I’m doing something – no matter how big it seems or how unlikely – I’ll do my best to achieve it.”

Appearances at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 – where she was Team GB’s only biathlete – established Amanda as a bona fide winter sports star. And yet there’s a sense that she would love another crack at the ultimate test of mental and physical endurance at the 2022 Beijing Games.

“The experience of my first Olympic Games was unreal,” added Amanda. “Officially becoming an Olympian and crossing that finish line in the sprint race – what a feeling! I have to say I got caught up a bit in all of the media attention and that distracted me as I was doing interviews left, right and centre. And it would have been nice to have had my coach out there with me too – and my Waxman for the skis – but unfortunately that wasn’t possible.

“Becoming a two-time Olympian was unbelievable but the experience in South Korea was very different to Sochi. I was better prepared and in top shape, with a world class coach behind me. I was ready but unfortunately the shooting discipline did not go my way. Windy conditions and pressure led to my goals being shattered. But I’ll always be a double Olympian and those games will always be the best experiences of my life.”

Amanda Lightfoot training in her home town of South Shields in Tyneside (Credit: Tim Richardson)

As an Army professional – the dual career athlete is still enlisted in the AGC – Amanda’s sporting career took a back seat post-PyeongChang. The need to catch up on ‘work’ was paramount and military commitments took centre stage for the remainder of 2018.

“It was important that I got back up to speed Army-wise,” she added. “But in 2019 I’m committed to putting in a full year’s training now that my military career is back on track. I’m looking forward to going through the full season on top form.”

And TASS will be fighting Amanda’s corner throughout the next 12 months after she became part of the programme through the organisation’s partnership with the Army. The ability to access core services at Leeds Beckett University has given the ambitious skier and markswoman fresh impetus at a key stage of her sporting career. “It’s such a fantastic scheme,” added Amanda. “And at my age I probably appreciate the support more than most!

For many, many years I’ve been self-funding the extra support I’ve required. It’s been sporadic and largely determined by what I could afford at the time. To be a TASS-supported athlete and to have full access to a psychologist, nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach – when I need it most – is fantastic. I honestly believe it’s the missing piece that I need to reach my full potential in biathlon.”

After a Christmas ‘break’ spent skiing in Italy, Amanda can’t wait to realise that potential. But she accepts that settling on the rollercoaster career of a biathlete was a brave choice for a South Shields Sanddancer more accustomed to grassy dunes than drifting snow. “I love the fact that you never know who will win,” she added. “But the biggest challenge is that you have to be able to ski technically well, with pace, and combine that with hitting targets the size of golf balls 50m away with a maximum heart rate.

“That’s what makes it an amazing sport to watch as the athletes have to become experts in both disciplines to be in for a chance to win.

“But when I look to the future I’d like to continue with the shooting aspect of the sport – it would be really nice to compete in a shooting competition without my heart rate through the roof! Having said that I can honestly say I wouldn’t change the sport that chose me. I’ve loved all of the ups and downs and the challenges that it brings along the way.”