Having finished the ‘sliding’ season with a World Championship silver medal hung around her neck, Britain’s Amy Williams returned home to Bath last month for a much needed rest. Sportsister caught up with her to talk about British rivalry, her Olympics hopes and why she won’t go to Alton Towers.
You had an excellent result at the World Championships in Lake Placid, how did it feel to win a silver medal?
Leading up to the event I was aiming for a top three finish. I got ill the week before I and thought why now? just before the most important race! My training got worse and worse just before the race so I didn’t have many expectations. Then on the day I just felt relaxed and enjoyed myself. Something must have clicked anyway – it was a massive achievement.
So are you pleased with how you progressed over the season?
I’m definitely on the way up and after getting used to a new sled I made good progress. In training I was always one of the quickest girls but it’s all about producing it on the race day. Sometimes it was disappointing because I wasn’t doing that. It can be quite unpredictable – sometimes you don’t even know exactly what you’re going to do on a certain corner.
Britain has a fine medal record in the women’s skeleton, do you feel under pressure to win a medal in Vancouver?
It will be my first Olympics but there’s definitely an expectation there. It’s how much pressure I put on myself. My dream was always just to get there but I know I’m good enough to get a medal and I’ve beaten all the other girls before.
Do you get on well with the other British girls?
Well, it’s difficult because we’re competing for places. I wouldn’t say we’re the best of buddies and the men are the same. It’s not a team sport and we probably want to beat each other even more than an American because we’re fighting for places on the team. There are five women going for two Olympic spots so I think there’s always going to be tension there. Last season I just travelled with the boys and I found this much more relaxing.
What will you do if you win Olympic gold?
Probably scream, cry and jump up and down! The Canadians will have a massive advantage in Whistler because they’ll be on that run all winter. The course is unbelievably quick – it completely frazzled my brain in the World Cup race! But the conditions on the day can make a difference and I came second in that event so I have a chance.
So, how did you first get into the Skeleton?
I was a runner but kept getting shin injuries and one day I had a go on the push course at Bath University. I ended up going over to Holland for the World Push Championships where they set up this 50 metre course with scaffolding. I entered as a guest, finished second, and the British team saw me and asked if I wanted to give it a try on ice. It’s usually military people who get into it but I paid my own way to go to Lillehammer and have a go.
Was it terrifying?
It was so scary at first and I think I just cried at the end of my first run. But there were lots of army people watching so I knew I had to be brave and have another go! When I was learning I’d wrap camping mats around my limbs.
How fast do you go?
Whistler was the fastest run last year where we went over 80 miles an hour.
The rules of skeleton say you must go head first with your hands by your side – doesn’t this go against all your survival instincts?
It actually feels quite natural! I have no urge to do the Luge because the beginners can’t control their legs. Your head isn’t actually that vulnerable, though my neck muscles do get very sore early in the season. Sometimes I can’t lift my head off the pillow!
How much travelling is involved?
There’s a lot! I was away all winter really. It was hard when I was younger but you get used to it and I’m now friends with lots of the athletes from different countries.
How long can a skeleton career last?
The average age is about 30 so you can have quite a long career. You obviously need the basic speed and power to get a good start but it takes years of experience to get the knowledge and skill to drive the sled down quickly. It’s a good sport because some women have had children and still gone back to competing.
What’s your training programme like?
In the summer I train twice a day, starting at 9am in the gym. Then at 3pm I’ll go on the push track or do some running. In the winter we don’t train so much because competing drains you. You need to be fresh for your races.
Do the women athletes get as much support as the men?
It’s very equal in our sport, perhaps because we’ve been more successful than the men.
Did you go out sledging in the February snow?
No I wasn’t here! All my friends were sending me pictures and I was like “yeah whatever guys, I see snow like that all year round!” I would’ve found a hill and a bin liner and probably injured myself. I’m a bit of a dare-devil. The girls said in the summer we should go to Alton Towers but the rides aren’t quick enough, the skeleton has ruined it all!
It’s said the sport began when British gentlemen caused uproar by sledding through the streets in St. Moritz. Is this true?
Yes! It’s an amazing place, they have the only natural track in the world. We see all the old boys in their tweed jackets – it might be a good place to meet a rich old man! I always have my worst race there but I don’t care because it’s so nice!
Lawrence Dunhill, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Photo credits: Phil Searle, Digitalscape and Bryn Vaile, Matchtight Ltd
About the sport of Bob Skeleton:
Skeleton can be traced back to the late 19th century when British gentlemen enjoyed racing one another down the busy, winding streets of St. Moritz, causing uproar among the locals. In 1884 the Cresta Run was built with the ten turns still used today. When the Winter Olympics were held there in 1928 and 1948, the Cresta Run was included in the program, marking the only two times skeleton was included as an Olympic event before 2002.
Apart from the natural Cresta Run, skeleton shares the same tracks as bobsleigh and luge and these are man-made surfaces. Individual ‘sliders’ do a sprint start and then hurtle down the track at speeds of up to 80 mph. The average run has a length of 1500m and 15 corners, some of which produce so much G force that it is almost impossible not to hit the ice with your helmet.
Sled frames must be made of steel and may not include steering or braking mechanisms. The handles and bumpers found along the sides of the sled help secure the athlete during a run.
Though usually a two heat competition, next year’s Winter Olympics will have four heats. The athlete with the lowest combined time in all heats is the winner.
Women’s skeleton featured in the Winter Olympics for the first time in 2002, when Alex Coomber won the bronze medal for Britain. In the 2006 games Shelley Rudman went one better taking the silver medal. Britain will be a strong hope for medals in 2010 in Vancouver.