WHERE did Skeleton racing come from and why is Britain so good at it?
We’ve helped Biathletes, Snowboarders, Curlers and Skiiers get the winter sports funding they need in the build up to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018, but the most impressive are our Skeleton racers.
Sliding down icy chutes at over 130km/h, their chins hovering inches above the rock hard track, Skeleton racers have to be the hardest winter sportspeople going – or at least the most insane.
It’s an incredible sport, but with mild winters and few facilities for any winter sports at all, why does Britain have so many people Skeleton racing?
Way back when, wealthy Brits slid around the holiday resort of St Moritz in Switzerland on sleds that resembled skeletons. The sport evolved from there into a Winter Olympics event, Team GB taking Bronze Medals at the two Games held in St Moritz in the 1940s.
Without the link to the Games, Skeleton racing became a past-time for British Army, Navy and Air Force soldiers, but they took it seriously and developed a specialised, state-of-the-art sled that gained Britain the men’s and women’s World Championships in 1999.
Cue recognition. Cue funding. Cue a third Winter Olympics call up for Skeleton racing.
Since Skeleton’s return at Salt Lake City 2002, Britain has established itself as the Skeleton racing superpower of the world, Amy Williams landing Gold at Vancouver 2010 and Lizzy Yarnold following up at Sochi 2014.
Both women were discovered by British Skeleton coaches via their successful talent ID initiatives and came into the sport having reached high levels in athletics – Williams being a runner and Yarnold a heptathlete.
The coaches have found the ideal formula for a skeleton racer and it begins with sprinting. The first test is for power, speed and explosiveness as the push off at the start of the Skeleton session is crucial.
Power2Podium, the latest talent initiative, began in 2011 and restarted after 2014, picking up 26-year-old long jumper Kimberley Murray as a Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics contender.
Talking about the experience, she said: “In the United Kingdom, the way most athletes discover skeleton is through a talent ID search, and I was no different.
“I was a successful applicant from over 1,000 on the Power2Podium talent search for the next British skeleton champion. It was like X Factor; an emotional rollercoaster, with multiple phases and deselections along the way, until finally in early 2015 I was confirmed to have made the British Skeleton talent programme.
“Prior to starting skeleton I was a long jumper, but I never felt that I reached my full potential as an athlete, having to stop jumping due to injury.
“Being identified as having potential in a new and exciting sport has reignited that drive and desire to reach an Olympics; it is an opportunity I want to fully make the most of.”
Skeleton racing is the most funded British winter sport, but Murray is not high enough up the food chain to get funding for her living costs.
Despite this she has made the leap to becoming a full-time Skeleton racer, giving up her job at the Scotland Institute of Sport and turning to Skeleton fans to help fund her new career.
Murray’s team mate on the British Talent program, 21-year-old Brogan Crowley, is in the same boat. Like Olympic champion Yarnold, Crowley is a former heptathlete and, like Murray, her selection has made her determined to now fulfil her potential as an athlete at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
She said: “I struggled with injury due to the repetitive nature of heptathlon, so it only made sense that three ankle operations later, I decided to see if I could fulfill my potential as a sportswoman elsewhere.
“Skeleton has given me a new and thrilling passion. It has reignited my desire to represent my country at an Olympic Games.”
She added: “Stretching my final year at Loughborough University, where I am currently studying English and Sports Science, will give me more lenience when it comes to attending training camps abroad, and allow me the extra time I need for training and learning how to slide, alongside all the other lifestyle aspects which I will need to progress in the sport.”
Crowley has a good plan, but still has the funding deficit that Kimberley Murray has and her PledgeSports campaign aim is to raise funds for living costs.