How Sochi 2014 disappointment reignited Laura Deas’ passion for skeleton

By Will Moulton

For a small nation without specialised weather or facilities, it is incredible that Great Britain keeps breeding female athletes perfectly suited to hurtling head first down a track at 90mph.

But while many eyes will be on Lizzy Yarnold, as she aims to defend her Olympic skeleton title in Pyeongchang, it could well be her stablemate Laura Deas who ends up writing the headlines this time round.

The two athletes share remarkably similar stories. They are separated in age by just three months, were multi-talented athletes in their youth – Yarnold was a heptathlete, Deas a tetrathlete – and share a love of horses.

Indeed, despite the obvious differences between the sports, Deas’ believes it was only because of her equine experiences that she was able to conquer the tremendous fear she felt on her first sled run back in 2009.

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The 29-year-old recalled: “It was a very unique and very testing experience – you have no idea what’s coming and then you realise it’s absolutely terrifying and you’re probably going to hurt yourself!

“But I love adrenaline sports. My main sport before skeleton was eventing and that is a real extreme sport. You’re having to think really fast, often make a split second change of plan and feel what’s happening underneath you so there are a lot of transferable skills.

“The funniest thing is for many the skeleton is the most extreme thing they’ve ever done but my mum’s reaction was ‘oh good, so you’ve finally decided to do something less dangerous!’”

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That maiden track run came at the end of a long selection process after being recruited in 2008 via UK Sport’s Girls4Gold scheme, a programme that also introduced Yarnold to the sport.

But their similarities soon ended as their career paths quickly took off at different trajectories. By March 2015 Yarnold had become only the second athlete in the history of the sport to hold the European, World Cup and Olympic titles simultaneously, while Deas was using her failure to qualify for Sochi as motivation to reignite her skeleton career.

She would eventually finish an impressive fifth at the end of her first World Cup season and admits she wouldn’t be where she was now without the disappointment of missing out on the Games.

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“I can’t say if I’d even still be doing skeleton if I’d been to Sochi,” she admitted.

“Missing out made it very clear and brought into very sharp focus how much I did want to go to an Olympics. It put that fire in my belly.

“At my second ever World Cup race in Calgary – a track I’d never been to before – I managed to win a silver medal. That day was a huge moment for me – I thought I can do this, I do deserve to be here, I do have a future at the top level.”

Deas’ best moment of her career so far followed soon after at the start of the 2015/16 season as she stunned everyone by claiming her first World Cup gold at a venue where she had failed to qualify for the Britain team heading to Sochi not long before.

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“That was a really, really special day because it was at a track that I hadn’t had any success on in the past,” the Welsh-born athlete recalled.

“On race day I managed to put together two really good runs and I think I shocked everybody. I shocked myself!

“I don’t think anybody was expecting for a Brit to win on a German track where there is massive home advantage and one which is quite technical and frightens people.”

Since then Deas has proved to be one of the most consistent athletes on the circuit, finishing in the overall top ten in each of her four World Cup campaigns, picking up five medals in the process.

A European bronze could have been added to that list earlier this season but Deas was forced to settle for fourth in a race won by Russian Elena Nikitina, who was banned at the time from the Olympics due to doping offences but still allowed to compete internationally.

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This led to former British bobsledder John Jackson describing the situation as a “complete farce” and many questioned why the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation allowed Nikitina to race.

But as the debate surrounding Russia rages on in the build up to the Games, Deas is just hoping that she and her fellow competitors can deflect the attention back onto skeleton’s breathtaking nature.

“It’s an incredible sport, travelling at 80-90mph, hitting 5G of pressure in the corners, having to react and think super quickly as we go down,” the University of Bath-based sledder said.

“I would love for that to be the over-riding impression people get of the sport, seeing how amazing it is rather than the rest of the politics.”

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As for Britain’s prospects, Deas believes that she and Yarnold are more than capable of finishing on the podium and cannot wait to represent her county alongside one of her closest friends.

She said: “I’m definitely there to compete for a medal and obviously Lizzy is as well – she’s defending her title. We both have stepped on that podium plenty of times and we can both do it again when it matters.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to experience the Olympics with her because one of the hardest parts about Sochi was that we weren’t there together. It will be really nice to make that happen.”

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