Picture this, Lizzy Yarnold, her brain fried by euphoria, sitting up in bed watching her favourite crime drama with balls of wool in her lap. Knitting and Netflix, the breakfast of champions.
Yarnold did not look bad for three hours sleep. The restorative property of gold had clearly worked its magic. If winning the ultimate Olympic garland once was fun, imagine the emotive power of doubling up to engrave your name on another “Super Saturday” for British sport.
Maybe this did not have quite the force of London 2012, when Jessica, Mo and Greg blew the doors off that magical summer night, yet her bullet run down a chute of ice-lined concrete pinned to a Korean mountain was still 51.46 seconds of heart-thudding, escalating excitement.
Yarnold did not so much dominate as obliterate her skeleton rivals, wrenching gold by almost half a second. In a contest measured in nano units, this was a country mile. “I guess as each minute passes it becomes more of a reality but it’s still an unbelievable series of events, everything coming together,” Yarnold said, still joining the dots from the night before alongside her bronze-winning team-mate Laura Deas, pictured right.
“There’s a whole dream if everything goes right, do this, get this corner, if speed comes, everything will work magically. Now, it’s a relief that it did all go to plan, hopefully in time. When I have the medal in my hands, it will be more real. It was a big dream to challenge myself and try to defend my title straight after Sochi. To get to win an Olympic title is just awesome, a massive, massive honour.”
Yarnold’s achievement is the more remarkable given the portents. Only once had she finished on the podium, at the season’s first race three months ago in Lake Placid. Her best since was fourth at Konigsee in the last run before Pyeongchang. In between, dross, including a 13th, 16th, 19th and even 23rd.
The skeleton squad was immediately quick here, kicking up a swirl of controversy over the space-age skin suits. The governing body liked it. That’s all that mattered. Yarnold paid little attention anyway. There is no choke in this girl. Once that helmet goes on she sees only the ice before her.
“I’m an athlete that can perform on big stages. Even though World Cup results are up and down, that’s when I bring the performance,” she said. As a result, here she is, a double gold medalist who knits. Not many of those to the pound. “I am only doing strips because I cannot do patterns, it is too complicated. For years I have just been doing strips and putting them aside. I woke up very early – not sleeping very well at the moment – and I did not know what else to do other than Netflix and chill, and to be knitting.
“I remember knitting when Amy Williams was on in the World Cup in 2011. The only thing I could do was watch the race on my laptop and sit there knitting. My nan taught me how to knit and she passed away a few years ago and it is something I can do and feel connected to her.”
So what next after the day-time TV sofa circuit and the school visits? Will she be back for a third crack? “I feel very motivated today as I did four years ago. I feel that I can jump back on the sled,” she said. “I’d recommend any athlete to take a break. It’s a four-year cycle and, even though it’s tempting and you’re desperate to carry on, it’s a long time to be at your best.
“As athletes we don’t allow ourselves to be ill or injured. Being human you need to have ups and downs. Having time off now is really important. I’ll take a good break and get back to you.
“I did a skydive a couple of years ago and it was an amazing feeling of freedom. It’s quite similar to the skeleton. You’re on your way and not a lot you can do for it, hold on and hope for the best.”
As if. Modest to the last. Remarkably, there are some out there bemoaning the £6.5 million in lottery cash per Olympic cycle that ultimately funds golden moments like this. Their argument rests on the sport’s relative inaccessibility. As you might expect, Yarnold has the answer for this, too. And that is participation in any sport, just get out there and do stuff. And when the time is right, do as she did and try out for skeleton through the British talent ID programme. You might not make it but think of the fun you would have trying. And if, like her, you are able to transfer athletic performance, in Yarnold’s case from heptathlon, you might end up knitting a scarf with a gold medal around your neck.
“I’m not the one who makes the decision on who gets money,” she said. “I’m hugely grateful for UK Sport supporting us. My job as an athlete is to perform at Olympics and World Championships. And I do think that we inspire people, when I show [kids] videos of me hurtling down the track. How is she doing this, a schoolgirl from Kent? I think that’s really important.”