The Winter Olympic Games are here. The chance to see those extraordinary, dangerous and extreme sports that we only see every four years.
While Team GB’s four skeleton athletes are making their final preparations to make their mark on the ice in Pyeongchang, I am mentally preparing myself to try the sport for the first time at the University of Bath.
I’m at the only bobsleigh and skeleton push-start track in the country, which opened in 2002, as Sportsmail learns how to master the skeleton with the help of Olympic silver medallist Shelley Rudman.
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Olympic medallist Shelley Rudman (right) taught Sportsmail's Kate McGreavy the skeleton
Rudman, who took up the sport at the age of 21, revealed the technique and her tips for event
Growing up I always wondered how someone finds out that they are suited to sports such as the skeleton.
This was my chance to see if I had a hidden natural talent for flying headfirst down a sharp drop just five centimetres above the ground on a tea tray-like sled.
Rudman, who won Olympic silver back in 2006 in Turin, admitted that she got into the sport ‘just by coincidence’ through ‘a friend who was already involved with it on the British skeleton squad’.
Before she took up the skeleton at 21 she did lots of sports and was a good 400 metres hurdler.
This news boosted my confidence as I also did a variety of sports as a teenager from football to cross country and was going to be debuting the skeleton at just one year older than when Rudman did. Perhaps there was hope for me yet.
Although walking alongside the 140m push-start track and seeing the steep hill I was about to descend, the nerves soon built up.
‘With the skeleton there’s that perception that it is a really dangerous sport, but it’s not really that dangerous at all,’ Rudman, who is part of Eurosport’s coverage for the 2018 Games, told Sportsmail.
Rudman proudly displays the silver medal she won in the skeleton in Turin back in 2006
SHELLEY RUDMAN’S TOP TIPS
1. Have great core stability
2. A good grit and determination
3. A good sprint start
‘The most injuries that you acquire through the sport is on the sprint start and it’s purely because the temperatures are so low. It’s really hard to stay warm so you get muscle strains and maybe ice burns where you touch the side of the track.’
Reassuring to know as the track’s surface is closer to an athletics track rather than an ice chute - with the added touch of fake snow – and I will be travelling down on a wheeled sled on rails so will not have to use my body to steer.
Great Britain seem to have a knack for the skeleton and have won six Olympic medals in the sport.
Women have led the way. Alex Coomber won bronze in the event in 2002, Rudman’s silver followed four years later and Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold won golds in 2010 and 2014 respectively.
But why are we so successful considering there are no actual ice skeleton runs in the UK?
The University of Bath has the only bobsleigh and skeleton push-start track in the country
Sportsmail learns how to master the skeleton at the 140m push-start track at the University
It was important to keep the head and feet up to avoid them hitting the track during my run
Winter Universiade: Gold (2005)
Olympics: Silver (2006)
European Championships: Bronze (2010 & 2012) Silver (2006 & 2014) Gold (2009 & 2011)
World Cup: Bronze (2012-13) Silver (2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11) Gold (2011-12)
World Championships: Gold (2013)
‘I think we’ve seen success and as British people we want to do well when people say that you can’t do well.
‘I think with the winter sports there’s always been this thing “oh you know it’s the winter sports” and we’ve kind of gone out there and gone “do you know what we can really do this and we’re really good”,’ Rudman said.
‘We’re the most heavily funded programme out there, out of all of the other nations and I think it does help.’
Yarnold and Laura Deas will be looking to continue the momentum and win an Olympic gold for a third consecutive Games come Saturday.
On whether Rudman feels like a trailblazer for the sport, she said: ‘My medal managed to activate the team funding for skeleton for the next four-year cycle so that helped with their developments.’
The skeleton had the thrill of a theme park ride with the adrenaline increasing the heart rate
At the Olympics both the men and women complete four runs with the lowest total time crowning the winner.
During the test event at the Olympic track the women hit speeds of at least 77mph with the men going faster but I would be hurtling down the course at a significantly lesser pace. On the push-start track athletes can reach about 30mph.
The time had come for me to do it for the girls and follow in Rudman’s footsteps.
Kitted out in a helmet much bigger than the normal size which I was told was for my own protection.
|Thursday, Feb 15 |
Friday, Feb 16
Friday, Feb 16
Saturday, Feb 17
|Men's skeleton runs 1-2|
Men's skeleton runs 3-4
Women's skeleton runs 1-2
Women's skeleton runs 3-4
The skeleton was omitted from the Olympics following the 1948 Games because it was believed to be too dangerous and it made a return in 2002.
'They wouldn’t let me do it if it was too dangerous' was the thought that ran through my mind as Rudman gave me instructions.
To get a feel for the adrenaline-pumping sport I was told to start by lying on the sled headfirst and Rudman would push me down the run.
‘Hold on nice and tight, I need you to put your shoulders down but head up,’ Rudman said.
‘Feet up and I want you to keep these feet up as you’re going down the track and when you come back and also your head.’
Reigning Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold will be in action in Pyeongchang on Friday morning
The key was not to relax when I reached the uphill end of the run as I would be descending backwards to the middle where Rudman would eventually stop me.
At the top of the run you can’t see the bottom of the slope and barely off the ground you could just see what was immediately in front.
Holding on with my clammy hands, I set off at what seemed like 100mph but was in fact about a fifth of that speed. It had the thrill of a theme park ride with the adrenaline causing the heart to beat faster.
Once I’d returned down the track backwards, which was worse than the actual run, it was time to emulate the pros by attempting a push start.
The skeleton athletes push the sled with one hand while sprinting with their legs high. Rudman loaded on to the sled in the most graceful manner. It was like slow-motion.
Amy Williams won a gold medal for Team GB in the skeleton at the 2010 Vancouver Games
I am about as flexible as a piece of wood and thought there is no way I can do it like that.
I was told to run alongside the board holding both handles to make it easier and then load on to the sled.
The running and holding the sled was awkward and uncomfortable enough that I was just desperate to get on to it.
My eagerness to do so was clear as instead of landing chest first on to it I went knee first like a bag of potatoes hitting the floor before adjusting myself into the correct position.
Despite returning with bruised knees, I felt a sense of achievement as I never thought I would have the opportunity to have a go at the skeleton.
Although it’s probably just as well I didn’t try to pursue a career in the sport.
Shelley Rudman will be offering her insight during Eurosport’s UK coverage of the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018. Don’t miss a moment of the Olympic Winter Games on Eurosport and Eurosport Player. Go to www.Eurosport.co.uk.
You can watch Lizzy Yarnold and Laura Deas on Friday, February 16 at 11.20am LIVE and on demand across Eurosport channels.
Guide to the Games