When Lizzy Yarnold enters a room, people notice. She exudes the confidence of an athlete in the form of her life and has a presence that it is difficult to ignore. Visibly in peak physical condition, she appears calm and self-assured on the eve of her World Championship title bid.
Having returned to the World Cup circuit as Olympic champion this season, Yarnold won five of the seven races she contested, including claiming a first European title.
“I know myself as an athlete much better now,” she explained. “I don’t put the expectation on myself to win a medal in every single race to justify how I’m doing, it’s about learning and changing, refreshing everything along the way.”
However, there is no hiding the fact that she would be disappointed with anything less than gold in Winterberg and makes no excuse for her ambition.
“It’s the one title that’s eluded me. I remember seeing Shelley Rudman win her world title and I was desperate to be on that podium. I’ve wanted this for such a long time.
“It’s on par with the Olympic title because it’s showing that you’re the best in the world, so I’m going there to win.”
Despite a string of impressive results, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Yarnold since her dominance in Sochi. After winning the first World Cup race of the season, a spell of dizziness forced her to miss the second race in Calgary.
Not to be deterred, Yarnold took this as a chance to learn more about herself as an athlete: “It’s good to understand how fast you are travelling on the sled, how much pressure and how many g-force you are under.
“I have very high expectations of myself, but sometimes you need to be reminded that your body needs a rest. It was a worry at the time, but chatting it through with my coaches reassured me that I was in very good health and I could go back out and be confident.”
Taking this season off was never an option for the driven 26-year-old, who took a four week trip to New Zealand to recuperate after her Olympic success, admitting after any longer she would have missed the routine of her athletic career.
“It was an amazing time away, not thinking about skeleton at all, but I was eager to get back to the gym because I enjoy the systematic routine. I like knowing exactly what I’m going to do each day and that I’m in control of what I’m doing and how much I expect for myself.
“My motivation has changed; I don’t have that unending desire to achieve my lifetime goal, but I enjoy the process, and that’s how I’ve kept motivated.”
So does Yarnold feel more pressure from her peers, now that she’s Olympic champion?
“I don’t think anyone could put more pressure on me than I put on myself, but I have felt like people were aware I was in the changing room, or were looking at my training times and what lines or techniques I was using.
“I know how I responded to Amy [Williams] once she became Olympic champion, your view of people does change; you respect them in a different way.”
But Yarnold is not alone, her team mates Laura Deas and Rose McGrandle, who both came through the same Girls4Gold talent ID programme as her, both achieved success on their debut World Cup seasons, with Deas claiming two World Cup medals and McGrandle winning European bronze.
What is even more reassuring for British Skeleton is that their pathway continues to grow, with a second generation of Power2Podium talent ID athletes having been recruited into the sport late last year.
For Yarnold, it brings home the significance of her success: “From having done well in Sochi, they heard about the sport and applied; to think they’ve now joined us is amazing.
“I know that Amy [Williams] and Shelley [Rudman] motivated me, and it’s so worthwhile to think that I may have had that effect on even one person.”
Despite her success over the past few years, Yarnold is still looking for new ways to innovate and improve in her bid to become the first woman in history to defend an Olympic skeleton title.
“We’ve got two seasons before it will be the Olympic season again, so that means two seasons to play around with and try different things, and then one season to consolidate and to be consistently successful.”
Yarnold’s trajectory in the sport has been quicker than most, rising from total novice to Olympic champion in five years; she is now the senior figure in the squad and a role model for the next generation. All things considered, you would not bet against her achieving her ultimate goal.
Parsons hoping for “performance of the season” in Winterberg
Britain’s top ranked male slider Dom Parsons has been just one tenth of a second off the World Cup podium twice this season, finishing fourth at consecutive rounds in Königssee and St Moritz.
Having finished seventh in the overall rankings, Parsons is now hoping Winterberg will provide the platform for his season’s best performance.
“It’s the start of the four year cycle towards PyeongChang, so it’s not a crucial in terms of a finishing position, but I want this season to be the basis on which I can build. I’m hoping it will be my best performance of the season,” he said.
Parsons has been competing on a new sled, courtesy of former team mate Kristan Bromley’s Bromley Sports, and feels like the change is paying off.
“I’ve been getting used to the feeling on the sled and I’ve seen brief flashes of the kind of speed I’ll hopefully be getting in the next couple of years,” he explained.
“It feels totally different, but in a good way, it’s like when you go from one car to another and notice how the steering or the pedals respond, it’s the sliding equivalent of that!”
Lizzy Yarnold and Dom Parsons are two of 1,300 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery supported World Class Programme.