Smith among Skeleton hopefuls wanting to follow Yarnold

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British Skeleton have chosen eight athletes to be part of their new Talent Squad. The initiative, Power2Podium, was launched to find potential skeleton athletes who could compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics and had over 1000 applicants.

The search began in early 2014 and candidates were put through a series of tests in the UK before the final stage of testing in Lillehammer, Norway, which involved adaption to the training environment. The squad selected was unveiled at the University of Bath’s Sports Training Village and includes current University of Bath student Madelaine Smith, Bath graduate Kim Murray and Bath Spa student Eleanor Furneaux. The final female athlete selected was Brogan Crowley whilst the four men chosen are Chris Gray, Tim Hull, Craig Thompson and Marcus Wyatt. The athletes, all skeleton novices, have hopes of following in the footsteps of Sochi gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold who came through a similar talent process prior to her Olympic and World Cup victories.

There were over 1000 applicants for British Skeleton's Power2Podium initiative, but just 8 places available.

There were over 1000 applicants for British Skeleton’s Power2Podium initiative, but just 8 places available.

Smith, a second year Sports Performance student said that the decision to switch her sporting interests to Skeleton was on the recommendation of a friend, “Me trying it out [Skeleton] was literally by off chance and by a friend saying to me ‘Mads I think you have the characteristics for it, go for it’.” The former 100m sprinter continued “I saw an application form online and my friends were telling me just enter and see where you go, so for me it just went phase by phase and I thought ‘Oh, I’m actually quite enjoying this now’.” The eight athletes have had a small amount of practice on the ice now, and Smith described her experience so far as “Absolutely unbelievable”, saying that “I’d never done anything like it before and being away for such a long period of time with the group is obviously a challenge but we’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with skeleton.”

Despite being a current student and trying to balance training and studying, the second year told bathimpact that she hadn’t found completing both too difficult so far and that “My lecturers are absolutely amazing, they’re very supportive and they work things around me being here or not being here, so when I was away I had extensions and things like that, so it’s actually been great and they’ve been really supportive of it which I’m really grateful for.” With Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold being inspirations for all of the new talent squad, they all believe Olympic medals are achievable and Smith is no different believing that “With the hard work and the support of Skeleton, I think it’s definitely possible [to win a gold medal].”

Former Bath student Murray has also changed sports to focus on Skeleton after injury curtailed her long jump career. However, she believes that British Skeleton’s recent track record offers promise, telling bathimpact “The opportunity came to apply for the Power2Podium skeleton programme and I thought they’ve got such a good record with taking complete beginners to Olympics, that I thought that’s got to be worth a go and physically I was suited to what they were asking for, powerful, fast because that’s my long jump background.”   Like Smith, she has only recently taken to the ice but feels that her skills are continually improving, saying “Every day we face challenges as a team in terms of just learning the skill, we’re complete beginners, and it’s not a sport that you can do at a low level, you’re on these big tracks that the best in the world race on as well and you can’t really make it any easier, so you have to jump in at the deep end.

“But it was really good, I learnt a lot and I’m a much better slider compared to how I was in December, and obviously I’ve only done a tiny bit of sliding so excited for things to come.”

Current University of Bath student Madelaine Smith (2nd from left) and Bath graduate Kim Murray (2nd from right) were both in the 8 athletes selected

Current University of Bath student Madelaine Smith (2nd from left) and Bath graduate Kim Murray (2nd from right) were both in the 8 athletes selected

The former Sport and Exercise Science student also cited previous medallists as inspirations saying “I was here at university when Amy won her medal in Vancouver and I remember the buzz that was around the university and thinking oh that’s incredible, what an incredible sport and yeah it gives you a lot of confidence in the programme.  I don’t think there’s many sports that you could go into as a complete beginner and have a reasonable belief you could get to an Olympics in 8 years or so at that sport, but I think the skeleton programme have proved that a number of times, so it makes me believe that it’s possible as well.”

However, there is still a long road ahead for both athletes with more training on and off the ice required and the next goal to be selected in race teams to move their way up through the rankings. Therefore, Olympic qualification still remains a distant prospect at present, but Murray believes it’s a journey she can conquer stating “With the right support and commitment and all that sort of thing, I think everything should be in place for that to happen, I’ve just got to go and give it everything I have.”

The Skeleton Talent Squad are sponsored by Ignite, and cofounder Mark Smith told bathimpact “We have been following UK sport for a number of years, we use insight a lot with our clients and there’s a lot of insight you get from sport, so having looked at the UK sport journey from Atlanta through to London there’s an enormous amount you can learn and we just got so into it and had so much to learn that we felt we needed an inside track so we spoke to UK sport and they introduced us to Skeleton and so we built the relationship with Skeleton, and signed a 5-year deal with the Talent Squad so we get a new batch of talent every couple of years, so this is the day we’re meeting the first set of new talent.”

Director of insight and innovation at Ignite, Chris Holmes, is Britain most successful Paralympic swimmer and told bathimpact that the most important thing for the athletes to be successful would be “Focus and stick to the dream”, continuing that  the athletes should “Have that dream and hold it tight, even on those mornings when you feel the training is going backwards and it’s dark, cold, desperate mornings, stick to that dream and that focus, you have the control, you can bring about the gold medal that you’re aiming at.”

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Michael Powell is the former Sport Editor at bathimpact (2014/15). He covers a variety of University of Bath and TeamBath events, as well as local Bath politics.

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