Golden glory for Britain as Ashleigh Pittaway wins skeleton
The Lillehammer track, which began its life as a stage for a triple Olympic champion Georg Hackl, has now seen Ashleigh Pittaway add her name to the list of British skeleton winners.
Pittaway, who took up sliding at the same Königssee track in Bavaria where 1992, 1994 and 1998 Olympic singles luge champion Georg Hackl trained all of his career, continued Great Britain’s run of success in ladies’ skeleton with victory at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
Pittaway, who was born in Munich and has a German mother and British father, clocked an aggregate one minute 50.23 seconds over the two runs to beat her German best friend and rival Hannah Neise into second (1:51.19). France’s Agathe Bessard took the bronze medal (1:52.45).
Team GB have dominated Olympic women’s skeleton in the last decade with Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold taking gold at the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Olympic
Winter Games respectively, and Shelley Rudman winning a silver medal at the Torino 2006 Games.
Pittaway soon realised she had hit the big time in skeleton when the 2006 silver medallist Shelley Rudman was the first person to ask her to pose for a picture at the finish.
Rudman is acting as a mentor for competitors in Lillehammer and gave 15-year-old Pittaway advice on the eve of the race.
“I met her here and she is a big idol for me,” Pittaway said. “All of the GB skeleton Olympians are. “
Pittaway came into the Games as a favourite after dominating the qualifying events but was nervous after mixed fortunes in official training. But the Briton was fastest in the first run with 55.08 and held a 0.35 second lead over Neise ahead of the decisive second when she clocked 55.15.“I was very nervous before the first run,“ she said. “But the 0.35 gap calmed me down and I slide best when I am happy.”
Pittaway’s father David, who watched her triumph in Lillehammer, competed at international level in trampolining before settling in Munich where he worked as Germany’s national team coach for the sport.
Ashleigh was a Bavarian schools champion in trampoline before she got the skeleton bug after seeing Williams win her gold medal at Vancouver 2010. In Germany, sliding sports such as luge, skeleton and bobsleigh have a high profile and the country has a strong record in the disciplines at Olympic Games.
“She always used to like things like helter-skelter and after she saw Amy Williams win in 2010 she said to me that she wanted to do skeleton,” David Pittaway said. “We took her to the regional skeleton coach and he saw her and took her straight away.”
Rudman, who helped to present the medals with another former British skeleton racer Adam Pengilly, told Pittaway before the race that she should not worry too much about her training results.
“I advised her to keep everything calm and do everything the same as normal,” Rudman said. “Training is training and racing is racing. But she is a calm racer and seems to have a good instinct to drive the sled, which is a huge bonus. What is good is that she started sliding really young, lives in Germany and has been part of the German programme. That is a huge feather in her cap. There will be dips and highs, but I hope she stays in the sport and gets to the main Olympics.”
In the men’s event, hosts Norway won a rare skeleton medal when Alexander Hestengen finished second in 1:47.94, behind Russian winner Evgenii Rukosuev (1:47.30). Germany’s Robin Schneider took the bronze in 1:48.10.
Written by YIS / IOC Adrian Warner
Adrian Warner is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. He has covered 13 Olympic Games in a career that has taken in Reuters, the London Evening Standard and the BBC.