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Golden Valentine's Day for Yarnold


Great Britain's Lizzy Yarnold took the gold medal in the skeleton.

Great Britain's Lizzy Yarnold took the gold medal in the skeleton.

Great Britain's Lizzy Yarnold took the gold medal in the skeleton.

Skeleton slider Lizzy Yarnold won the hearts of the nation as she claimed a Valentine's Day victory with Great Britain's first gold medal at the Sochi winter Olympics.

The 25-year-old from Kent said she was "chuffed" to be crowned Britain's 10th ever winter Olympics champion in the Caucasus mountains above Rosa Khutor.

She lived up to her billing as Great Britain's strongest gold medal hope since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won in Sarajevo 30 years to the day and retained for Britain the title obtained by Amy Williams in Vancouver four years ago.

"I'm so, so thrilled I got myself here after five years through very hard work," she said afterwards.

"As an athlete you give up so much, but on a day like today, with a victory like today's, it's so worth it.

"I showed the world what I am capable of and I wanted to do myself justice and I really can't believe I won that.

"It's lovely that it's Valentine's Day today as well, there's lots of romance in the air and my mum and dad coming to watch me, my sisters, my best friends, everyone's here that I can share it with.

"I couldn't do it without them, I couldn't do it without the whole British skeleton team, there are so many people that are a part of my journey, so a massive thanks to them all.

"I just believed in myself, I knew I could do it if I put in the hard work and the dedication, I could do it and I have."

Yarnold celebrated after her gold-clinching final run by running towards the British fans in the crowd holding aloft the Union Flag and beaming with joy.

The Yarny Army, which includes parents Clive and Judith, sisters Katie and Charlotte, and boyfriend James Roche, who is a sled technician with the British bobsleigh team, were present to watch her moment of triumph.

The win makes her the fourth consecutive British woman to claim an Olympic skeleton medal after Alex Coomber, Shelley Rudman and Amy Williams.

The well-spoken former grammar school girl is also a grime music aficionado who listens to the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Giggs and Wiley to get in the zone before her runs down the icy track.

An avalanche of tributes poured in as the country celebrated Yarnold's famous victory at the Sanki Sliding Centre.

Prime Minister David Cameron took to Twitter to say: "Congratulations to @TheYarnold - an amazing gold for @TeamGB in the women's skeleton".

Gloucestershire University, where Yarnold graduated with a BSc Honours in Geography and Sport and Exercise Sciences, said: "YEAH!! She did it!! Well done @TheYarnold we never had any doubt! Gold champion!! #GoTeamGB"

Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds tweeted: "WOW just watched @TheYarnold get gold big Congrats".

Yarnold had gone into the final two runs with a commanding 0.44 second advantage over American rival Noelle Pikus-Pace after a commanding performance on Thursday.

Despite inevitable fears of how she might cope with the pressure of holding such a big overnight lead, she responded with two sensational runs as night fell over the Caucasus mountains.

She clocked 58.09 seconds on her fourth and final run to win by 0.97secs from Noelle Pikus-Pace with a combined time of three minutes 52.89secs.

Asked by BBC presenter Clare Balding if she had a message for fans watching in the UK, a tearful Yarnold said: "Everyone back home, thank you so much for all your support, I couldn't have done it without you all.

"Have a go, follow your dreams and never give up, never limit yourselves to what you can achieve."

Six-time Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy tweeted: " Just out of meetings to hear @TheYarnold won gold, fantastic, many congratulations!"

Olympics medal-winning swimmer Sharron Davies tweeted " What a shot! Well done @TheYarnold" together with a picture of Yarnold on her tray.

Yarnold - who finished 0.97secs clear of the field after four fantastic runs at the Sanki Sliding Centre - succeeds her landlady, Amy Williams, as the Olympic ice queen.

A crowd, including Olympians from other sports, gathered around the big screen at the University of Bath's sports training village to cheer her on in her two runs today.

The 25-year-old's emphatic victory means British Skeleton, based at the University of Bath, has now won medals at each of the last four Games - Coomber took bronze in 2002, Rudman silver in 2006 and Williams gold in 2010.

She first received an elite scholarship in 2007 for being a multi-discipline track and field athlete but got involved in the sport by responding to an advert in 2008 for UK Sport's Girls4Gold talent identification campaign while at university.

Yarnold was one of 1,500 national standard sportswomen who attended the initial testing of which 120 were selected for Skeleton and subsequently whittled down to 10.

She claimed her first International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (FIBT) World Cup victory on only her second career start in 2012.

Her first major result came at the 2012 World Championships in Lake Placid, placing above former Olympic medallists to claim bronze and confirming her potential in the sport.

Yarnold has had the same sled since she started skeleton in 2009, with exception to a few updates and improvements. It is called Mervyn, named after a man called Mervyn Sugden, who helped her on her journey in the sport.

Rachel Porter, who was scholarship co-ordinator and helped Yarnold manage her sports scholarship while at university, recalls: "After she attended the Girls4Gold programme in 2008, Lizzy was eventually matched to skeleton in 2009.

"I remember her coming into my office to tell me and she was so excited. From the very start she was driven and focused on what she wanted to achieve.

"You need to be a strong and brave character to contemplate throwing yourself down a mile long sheet of ice on a tea tray but Lizzy certainly has nerves of steel."

Ms Porter is unsurprised that Yarnold has gone on to Olympic success.

"Lizzy embraced every part of her journey through good and bad, and she is an ambassador for her sport and for the University of Gloucestershire," she said.

"The aim of the scholarship programme is to help athletes to manage their sport alongside their studies, so when Lizzy needed to attend training or competitions her study programme would be adapted and time frames adjusted, and the bursary she received helped with travel expenses, equipment, clothing etc.

"As part of the scholarship she also had support and training from the University in strength and conditioning, sports therapy, media, nutrition, physiology and psychology.

"Watching Lizzy go from strength to strength makes me extremely proud to have known her. Knowing she had qualified for the Olympics was a dream but to see her bring home the first gold medal for Team GB is truly amazing."

Figures from Twitter showed an explosion in Yarnold's popularity on the social media site which has seen her go from having just over 3,500 followers before the Sochi Games started to over 22,000 today.

The ferocious competitor took an early interest in sport as a schoolgirl heptathlete.

UK Sport has pumped £ 3.4 million into the British Skeleton programme - by far the biggest sum afforded any winter sport - and created a set-up that is the envy of many alpine nations.

Yarnold was all smiles as she took to the flower ceremony podium holding a Valentine's Day card for her boyfriend contained in a red envelope with a heart drawn on it.

Yarnold's mother Judith and father Clive described themselves as "amazingly proud" after witnessing their daughter emphatically claim gold.

"I'm lost for words, completely lost for words," Mrs Yarnold said.

"It's been the most exciting day of our lives but you didn't know until the last second. Something could have changed, anything could have changed.

"But she's so calm, cool, collected, professional. Lizzy just knew where she was going. She's amazing."

Mr Yarnold added: "We're just coming to terms with our daughter having just won a gold medal and not wanting to mention the gold word before.

"Now we can actually say 'we have a daughter with a gold medal'."

"It's just getting to terms with that, the excitement."

Greg Rutherford, who won the gold in the long jump at the London Games, tweeted: " I don't admit that I cry often, but @TheYarnold winning has me in tears! What an amazing athlete. Incredible".