Yarnold loves Valentine's Day gold

Andover Advertiser: Lizzy Yarnold savours the moment after winning gold Lizzy Yarnold savours the moment after winning gold

Thirty years to the day since Torvill and Dean strung perfect sixes over Sarajevo, Lizzy Yarnold shone in Sochi as she blitzed her rivals by almost a second to claim more Winter Olympic gold for Great Britain.

A day that had started with a trip to the top of a nearby mountain and a diet of British TV dramas ended with her soaring to victory with a 0.97 margin over her closest rival Noelle Pikus-Pace and handing a Valentine's card to her boyfriend, sled designer James Roche at the finish line.

Roared on by members of her friends and family at the Sanki Sliding Center, the 25-year-old from Kent turned a 0.44 seconds overnight lead into an advantage of over three quarters of a second after a track record-breaking third run which effectively sealed her triumph.

Yarnold said: "I've worked so hard to be in this position and I'm so proud that my dreams have come true.

"Races can be won and lost overnight so this morning I went to the top of the mountain with my friends and watched one of the ski events.

"I knew I had a 0.78 lead over Noelle but it's just like any training run - the processes are exactly the same. I knew I just had to enjoy it and make the most of the whole occasion. I let the sled run a bit more than usual and I loved it."

Yarnold's Valentine's Day victory underlined the nation's love for a sport which has now yielded medals on each of the six occasions in which it has been part of the Olympic programme, and successfully defended the title won by Amy Williams four years ago in Vancouver.

While Williams - and Turin silver medallist Shelley Rudman four years earlier - had risen from relative obscurity to reach the Olympic podium, Yarnold had had to deal with the greatest level of expectation to burden a British winter athlete since the Bolero-ing pair sealed the deal in such style in 1984.

Eagles had just about landed and Stones of Destiny have been eased into the nation's hearts since, but it became increasingly clear that a British skeleton programme, which started in earnest after Alex Coomber fashioned a 2002 bronze out of an obsession which began on skateboard wheels in supermarket car parks, represented the best hope of building on that previous success.

Yarnold had not even laid on a sled five years ago before she was plucked from a promising athletics background by the talent ID scheme Girls4Gold and hurtled on a steep trajectory which took her to both junior and senior World Championships podiums in 2012 before she dominated the current World Cup season, with four wins from eight race starts.

Any fears that Yarnold might let the pressure get to her had been erased in a commanding opening run on Thursday in which she set a new track record and was only challenged by the Russian Elena Nikitina, who came within 0.05 seconds of the leader but fell away with a bad mistake midway down the second run and ultimately had to settle for bronze.

Just like Williams four years ago, Yarnold responded to fears that the overnight wait may adversely affect her chances by setting a new track record of 57.91 on her third run, lifting her clear of the field with Pikus-Pace's response over a quarter of a second slower.

When Yarnold slid over the finish line she immediately wrapped herself in a Union Jack and took a bag from one of her family members to hand to boyfriend Roche, who was among the family group dubbed the 'Yarny Army' cheering from the front row of the stand.

"It was a Valentine's card - it was in the bag all week and I'd pre-planned it all," said Yarnold, who added that she was yet to receive anything in response.

Pikus-Pace, Yarnold's biggest threat with whom she shared the eight World Cup wins this season, revealed the reason she had not taken part in the final two days of official training was due to an accident on the track on Wednesday which left her with concussion.

"On Wednesday I got concussion and on Friday I was getting an MRI scan," said Pikus-Pace.

"I couldn't see clearly and my vision was blurred so for medical reasons I couldn't take those runs, as much as I really wanted to. But I felt very good down the track today and I felt like I gave it my best."

Rudman finished in a disappointing 16th position in what will almost certainly be her last Olympic race, a full 3.58 seconds behind her team-mate.

Rudman, who embraced Yarnold after her victory, said: "I'm happy I stuck with it. I can look at my career and say it's great. Now we will go on a family holiday and relax a bit and set new goals."

For the focused and driven Yarnold, the goal will almost certainly be defending her title in Pyeongchang in four years' time, as she evidently has no desire to give up her lifelong devotion to sport.

"I have no idea what will happen in the future but I love training and I'm a dedicated athlete," she added. "I'll spend a bit of time going into schools in Kent to tell them about my journey and how to follow your dreams."

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