Ed Smith wins GB qualifying race

Ed Wins British Selection Race in Winterberg!

The British Skeleton squad headed out to Lillehammer, Norway, a few weeks back to begin their pre-season training camp. Off the back of a fantastic summer of training and preparations, the whole programme was excited to get started and see what progress we had made.

Lillehammer was host to the Olympic Winter Games back in 1994 and a place that we visit on a regular basis for our pre-season training camps. You could argue that it is like a second home for us as we go there so often!. Norway is a beautiful place, and the weather at this time of year is generally quite forgiving – you might think that we must be immune to the cold but that couldn’t be further from the truth, and it is nice to be broken in to the cold gently at the start of the season!. The weather was quite mild, and with no snow, it certainly seems a strange place to go sliding Skeleton sleds, but you’ll remember from previous posts that the majority of Skeleton tracks are artificially refrigerated and Lillehammer is no exception.

The Lillehammer track was in fantastic condition for this time of year, especially given the warm weather, and the track was blisteringly fast! From the first run of the first day, everyone was clocking some very impressive speeds and downtimes and it was clear that it going to be a very quick transition back into high-speed Skeleton racing. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to get my facts mixed up – but there were some times posted that would have put the all-time track records in jeopardy!….

From Lillehammer, the squad travelled on to Winterberg – Germany, for our National Team Selection Race. Winterberg is notorious amongst Skeleton athletes, not for it’s dangerous track…. but for it’s weather! Winterberg almost seems to have it’s own little micro-climate and it seems that every time you ever go there, the weather is completely unpredictable. Let’s put it this way – you think England is bad?…… Winterberg is worse.

On arrival in Winterberg we were given a prime example of the ever-changing weather that can be expected, it was 18C and sunny! Not exactly perfect weather conditions to be racing Skeleton sleds down an ice track, but again the track was in fantastic condition and producing some very fast times indeed. The week before we arrived the German bobsleigh team had smashed the track record and it was clear that the track was going to be quick!

In a standard Skeleton race, each athlete completes 2 Runs / Heats down the track. The Winner is determined by combined time from the 2 runs. The only exception being the World Championships or Olympic Winter Games, where the race is 4 heats – held over 2 days of competition. The British selection race in Winterberg was to be in the Olympic-style format of 4 heats over 2 days of competition. Before any race, athletes are allowed a maximum of 6 training runs in the 3 days preceding the event – meaning that you need to get to grips with the track, and your equipment, very quickly.

In the British Selection Race for the 2012/13 season, the Top 3 Men and Women would be selected to compete on the World Cup Circuit (The Premier League of Skeleton Racing). Training had been going very well and everyone had been posting some good results, it was clear to see that this was going to be a close race!

The Womens Race was led from start to finish by Lizzy Yarnold, who had been in great form all week and continued to slide well through the selection race. Shelley Rudman, the reigning Overall World Cup Champion from last year, was carrying a slight injury and finished 2nd behind Lizzy, securing the 2nd spot on World Cup. Laura Deas, Donna Creighton and Rose McGrandle had been battling it out all week in training and the race turned out a close result. Laura finished in 3rd place, with Donna close behind in 4th and Rose finishing in 5th position.

The Mens Race took off with a Bang, and Dom Parsons put down a great first run to take the lead. Kristan Bromley, who had also been nursing a slight injury problem was sliding well, and came down in 2nd place. I didn’t have the best start in the world, and made a poor judgement on my equipment set-up for the first run, a mistake that would reap it’s rewards later in the race! Dom lead the field overnight, with Kristan in 2nd, I held 3rd place just .02 of a second behind Kristan, with David Swift in 4th heading into the 2nd day of racing…..

Sometimes we need to make mistakes to learn from them, and that was exactly what happened on day 2. Knowing that I had made a bad decision with my sled set-up on the first run, I knew there was a lot more to gain with some very simple adjustments for the 2nd day of racing and I was confident that I could improve my position. The 3rd heat was another close one, and with my sled now running how I wanted it – I managed to pull myself up into 2nd place ahead of Kristan, just 5 hundredths of a second behind Dom heading into the final run. With the final run completed in reverse order, I would get to put down my final run first – Dom would have to wait at the top of the track and come down faster than me in order to Win the race…….

Full of confidence from how training had been going, and with my sled running just how I wanted it, I put down a blistering final run, over 3 tenths of a second quicker than anyone else could manage in the final heat! I stood at the bottom of the track and watched on the big screen as Dom completed his final run. The splits coming up on the screen at regular intervals as he made his way down the track…..

0.05 seconds in the lead – 0.14 seconds in the lead – 0.17 seconds in the lead……

0.04 seconds in the lead?

He was falling back!

0.14 seconds behind – 0.20 seconds behind – and across the finish line……

0.21 seconds behind! – I had Won!!!

It was a great race, and great fun to take part in – So close right up until the final run. It was a great confidence boost and nice little bonus to win the Selection race, and to finally secure my place on the World Cup Squad for the coming season. But what is most important is how much I have learned over the past few weeks, working with our coaches and building on the solid foundations we have laid down over the summer. We all head into this season in great shape, everyone is sliding well, and we have built an amazing performance platform to work from. It should be an exciting season and I can’t wait to get started! The first World Cup Race is in Lake Placid, USA on the 8th November.

WORLD CUP SQUAD

MEN – Ed Smith, Kristan Bromley, David Swift

WOMEN – Lizzy Yarnold, Shelley Rudman, Donna Creighton

INTER-CONTINENTAL CUP SQUAD

MEN – Dominic Parsons

WOMEN – Laura Deas, Rose McGrandle

A big thankyou to all our performance staff for putting us in such a strong position leading into the season and a big thankyou to you all for your support over the past few months.

“Hard Work Pays Off!”

Ed