Olympics-Skeleton-Yarnold dazzles on her way to skeleton summit


By Justin Palmer

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 14 (Reuters) - From relative obscurity to Olympic skeleton champion, all season long Lizzy Yarnold has appeared destined for the top of the podium and the bubbly Briton duly delivered with gold on Friday at her first Games.

Yarnold's commanding victory suggested she was racing against herself and a Sanki track she gleefully admitted more than once that she loved.

Her rivals were left trailing in her wake.

In emulating friend and 2010 champion Amy Williams, Yarnold, 25, justified the faith of talent scouts who saw a multi-talented, committed and success-driven athlete that could adapt to the sport's high-speed dangers and quirky intricacies.

Flinging yourself head first down an icy chute on a sled at high-velocity is not for the faint-hearted but a then teenage Yarnold immediately felt right at home.

Success came with the world junior title in 2012 and this season the relentless climb to the sport's summit was reflected with a first World Cup title last month, swiftly followed by Olympic gold.

Yarnold, who grew up "running around the fields of Kent and playing every sport available", first shone as a heptathlete.

She also enjoyed high-board diving, horse racing, tennis and even the pole vault.

A head for heights as well as a head for speed.

"I have worked so hard to get into this position and I am just so proud that my dreams have come true," she said.

"It's hard work and dedication, I've been training after school since I was 13, and maybe I'm naturally good at skeleton."

Now she hopes to inspire young athletes "to follow their dreams, that you don't give up, and if you keep dedicated, you will get there."

She began her journey in skeleton as a 19-year-old through a Girls4Gold talent scheme but her path to Olympic champion was not always paved with gold - and required the intervention of a benefactor to help her along the way.

So hard up for cash to buy a bag for her precious sled runners, she walked around with a 'sponsor me' sign.

It worked.

A work colleague handed her the money she needed and she carries a lasting reminder of that act of generosity - she named her sled Mervyn after her benefactor.

From a nation not renowned as a hotbed of winter sports champions, skeleton has proved the exception to the rule - if you are a British woman.

Skeleton medals have been won at every Games since their event became part of the Olympic program in 2002 - Alex Coomber's bronze in Salt Lake City, Shelley Rudman's silver in Turin and then Williams gold in Vancouver.

For Yarnold, the reasons are clear: British sliders are winners.

"British Skeleton are good at it because we find the right athletes, have the right mentality, have the right physical strength and they train them up to understand tracks, learn tracks quickly and become winners," she said. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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