Sochi 2014: Amy Williams backing Lizzy Yarnold for Sochi success

By Rob HodgettsBBC Sport in Sochi
My Sporting Life: Amy Williams

Britain's Olympic skeleton champion Amy Williams has been on an emotional journey in Sochi and admits she is only now realising what winning a gold medal means.

It is this insight she is hoping to pass on to Lizzy Yarnold, her close friend and lodger, who is bidding to claim consecutive Olympic titles for Britain.

Yarnold, 25, a former heptathlete who took up skeleton in 2010 through the Girls4Gold programme, is touted as hot favourite for the women's crown after dominating the World Cup season. Every Olympics preview confidently predicted she would clinch a medal. To heighten expectations she is leading after Thursday's first two runs in Sochi, too.

Yarnold's skeleton hopes and fears

Yarnold claims not to be fazed by the weight of a nation's hopes, saying her own dreams bring more pressure. Williams is only just understanding the implications of those dreams.

"I have to admit it's only hit me here, four years later, that I've won a medal," said Williams. "I've probably been the most emotional here I've ever been, seeing the opening ceremony, being on the other side of the fence wishing so much I was an athlete.

"It has hit me that everyone here is searching for a medal and everyone wants a gold medal. And I've got one. I've got what everyone else wants. It's a very weird experience. In two days' time, Lizzy's life could change."

Professional athletes do not think about the outcome, of course. It is all about the process of getting there. So Williams believes Yarnold when she says she embraces the pressure.

"Lizzy knows she is in first place, she knows she is ranked highest and is favourite to win," said Williams. "That could make some athletes crumble with the pressure. Others just let it wash over their head. Lizzy does take it on board, but she deals with it really well. I think she actually likes that pressure, up to a point.

"I've been advising her to keep calm, keep consistent, be in that confident place and don't think about that end goal.

"She is a big, strong girl and she is fast, which is great, but she is very good aerodynamically, she's got great equipment, good coaches - it's a great recipe. She ticks all the boxes."

Williams went to Vancouver in the shadow of team-mate Shelley Rudman, the Turin silver medallist, but was consistently in the top three in training and dominated the race days. With one run left, Williams was in gold position.

"The fastest goes last so I was the only one up there," said Williams, 31, who retired in 2012 because of injury. "I didn't look at the time sheets and I put my fingers in my ears so I couldn't hear the announcers when they gave the other athletes' times out. I didn't want to know what they'd done.

"I was very nervous and my legs were shaking but I had a quiet confidence, knowing if it's meant to be it will be. I remember looking across at the mountain. I just took a deep breath, thinking, 'this is it, this is the Olympics'.

"You try your hardest not to, and kid yourself that it is just another race. But in the back of your head you know it's not. But I knew I had no regrets standing there.

"I used to carry a laminated card with three boxes and three ticks in them to sum up all the hard work.

"It was, 'Amy, you've done everything possible in the last four years, every decision, every single day was, 'will this help me win gold, yes or no?' Is this ice cream going to help me? No, then don't eat it. It was as brutal as that."

All the graft, sacrifices, decisions and training boiled down to the next 54 seconds.

"I don't really remember the second half of the track, it's a total blur," said Williams. "I know I made a few mistakes; it was the slowest out of the four, but I didn't know how well I had done." Crossing the line, Williams struggled to decipher her overall ranking from her position on that particular run.

"I remember thinking, 'I can't celebrate'," she said. "I heard the crowd cheering but I had to whisper in [coach] Andi Schmid's ear, 'Where did I come?' and he said, 'well, you are Olympic champion, you've done it'.

"And I thought, 'now what?' Everyone was looking at me, and I am naturally quite shy. I never thought about the bit after winning gold."

Williams sees in Yarnold the same raw desire and competitiveness to be the best, stretching back to their early days in the gym together.

"I read one interview with her that said she saw me do more than anyone else," said Williams.

"She's completely copied that. For me it was about doing all those little things that no-one else sees but are really important.

"It might be turning up 45 minutes early to do some extra stretching or being very prepared with all your food and protein shakes so once you've finished your session you can hydrate and feed the body straight away.

"I also advised her to move closer to Bath. I just happened to have bought a flat and was about to rent it out, so I said 'for your training and your performance, if you've got the opportunity to live five minutes from training, do it'.

"It's all those little tiny decisions that give you confidence and affect your performance.

"Lizzy has done that. She has really listened, she takes on everything you tell her and she really wants to strive to be the best."

The skeleton arms race will jump forward again when competition starts, with all the nations unveiling their new suits, helmets and other equipment for the first time. Training times can therefore be deceptive.

American Noelle Pikus-Pace is arguably Yarnold's biggest rival, while Russia's Olga Potylitsina, Australian Michelle Steele and Germany's Anja Huber have been edging up the time sheets.

But Williams insists her old team-mate Rudman, who finished sixth in Vancouver, should not be ruled out. The 32-year-old is, after all, the reigning world champion, even if World Cup podiums have proved largely elusive this season.

Rudman can also draw on the closely guarded, cutting-edge sled technology of partner Kristan Bromley - known as Dr Ice - who goes in the men's race.

"A bit like four years ago, no-one mentioned me, but quietly I was confident I could win a medal and there is no reason Shelley Rudman can't either," said Williams.

"She is the most experienced slider in the field and always ups her performances at big events.

"She hasn't got quite the same push as Lizzy as she is smaller and lighter but her experience and technical side is not to be underestimated."

All eyes, though, will be on Yarnold. Can she stay focused on the process rather than the prize, or will the Olympic dream turn into a nightmare? Williams realised hers; it just took a while to decode.

"I do believe Lizzy can bring us gold but anything can happen on race day," said Williams.

"But the most consistent person will win and at the moment that person is Lizzy."

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