YANQING, China (Reuters) – Four years on from claiming bronze in Pyeongchang, Britain’s Laura Deas is hoping to channel the spirit of Lizzy Yarnold, her retired teammate and the most successful Olympic skeleton athlete of all time, in part through a mug.
“There’s a few mementos that I’ve brought with me so she’s here with me in spirit even if not in person,” said 33-year-old Deas, who has brought to China a bracelet given her by Yarnold and a mug with her friend’s image on it.
“So every time I have a cup of tea, which is something that we used to do together, I think of her,” Britain’s best hope added at the Yanqing Olympic Village.
The men’s and women’s skeleton teams had their first taste of ice at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre on Monday morning, looking to find a groove and become familiar with conditions before the competition starts on Friday and Saturday.
The sport supposedly takes its name from a skeleton-like steel sledge created in 1892 by bored visitors looking to amuse themselves at the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz.
In China, competitors will hurtle head first down the winding track at speeds exceeding 129 km an hour over four runs in which the cumulative time is added together.
“The ice looks great and the track is stunning … It’s really cool to be back and have another chance to slide on it,” said Deas, who also trained there in October.
‘A LOT OF MISTAKES’
Latvia’s Martins Dukurs said he had a lot of work to do. “It was still a lot of mistakes which I need to fix,” he said at the sliding centre. “The ice is harder and faster than when we were here the previous time and definitely won’t be slow in the race.”
The 37-year-old is one of the most dominant winter sports athletes of all time, having won the World Cup competition 11 times including last month, and having taken Olympic silver in Vancouver and Sochi.
But his resume still lacks Olympics gold.
“That I won some previous races doesn’t give me any benefit, or mean that I will be leader up there,” he said. “I’m more focusing on my runs and I’m not thinking what others think.”
Missing from training was Katie Tannenbaum, 36, who was to be the sole representative of the U.S. Virgin Islands but tested positive for COVID-19.
On Sunday she posted a video showing her smiling tearfully as teammates carried the flag into the Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony without her.
(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)