#SJA2014: Why I’m voting for – Lizzy Yarnold

Yarnold Sochi 2014
Lizzy Yarnold on her way to Olympic gold in the skeleton bob at Sochi earlier this year

For PHILIP BARKER, the sporting year’s been all downhill since February, when he witnessed what he regards as the most impressive performance of 2014

I’m putting a Y rather than an X on my voting form for the SJA Sportswoman of the Year.

For me, one candidate in 2014 stands out by a mile: Lizzy Yarnold – Britain’s only Olympic champion this year.

Cast your mind back St Valentine’s day. The British media corps spent their evening huddled in the shadow of a Russian mountain range to watch the coronation. Those in the know were rather more than quietly confident when Yarnold prepared for that final run. She had already broken the track record at the brand new Sanki Sliding Centre on an earlier run and headed the standings throughout the competition. Going into the decisive final descent, she had a lead of 0.44 seconds, a lifetime in terms of this sport.

She slid down the track on what really is no bigger than a tea tray. Although sliders hate the description, the comparison does bring home the sheer raw courage needed to launch yourself, head-first on a tiny piece of carbon fibre which is polished, tested and aerodynamically honed to improve performance by thousandths of a second.

“I love the feeling of being almost out of control,” Yarnold had said at a pre-Games press conference.

It is not just about adrenalin. Yarnold’s memory seems to be able to recall every twist and turn of every course she races as she plots her way at maximum speed down the icy side of a mountain. That’s a useful skill when you approach each turn at minimally 85 miles per hour.

And, of course, it is highly dangerous. And not just from crashing, but from the extreme G-forces the sliders put their bodies through on every run, in practice as well as competition. Yarnold’s main challenger for the gold medal was an American called Noelle Pikus Pace, who later admitted she’d suffered a blackout on the way down and needed an MRI scan. The hundreds of runs they make in training are every bit as perilous

Lizzy Yarnold explains to the British press in Sochi that she doesn't actually use a tea tray
Lizzy Yarnold explains to the British press in Sochi that she doesn’t actually use a tea tray in her skeleton races

Nor is it the most comfortable sport. Aerodynamics dictated the thinnest sliding suit possible, not exactly designed as a winter warmer.

No wonder the medallists were swathed in Arsene Wenger-style coats for the presentation of flowers immediately afterwards.

Yarnold’s smile lit up that winter evening and she was still beaming when she arrived at the Olympic Park for a media session the following day, which she handled with every bit as much poise as she had shown on the ice.

Since the turn of the new millennium, only women have won Winter Olympic gold for Britain. Yarnold follows Amy Williams as a Games skeleton champion.

Here’s hoping that Lizzy’s triumph won’t be completely overshadowed because it happened early in the year

One thing that is in her favour. Our members have long memories for a fine accomplishment. Sixty years ago we honoured Sir Roger Bannister for his four-minute mile and that fabulous Miracle Mile in Vancouver. Another organisation ignored Bannister’s claims and gave their annual gong to Chris Chataway. He memorably beat Vladimir Kuts but always graciously admitted that he won the award because his race was transmitted live on television just days before the final vote.

  • Voting is now open for all SJA members to choose their Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year. The winners will be announced at the 65th annual SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery and being staged in London on December 11. And if you want to make a case for your favourite performer of 2014, send your article to


Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms


Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms will be available in October 2014

Wed May 13: SJA York Races Day, sponsored by Ladbrokes, at the Dante Festival. Click here to book your places

Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club