Winter Olympic gold medal winner Amy Williams gives a refreshing insight into elite professional sport. Lee Sobot reports.
SOMERSET-based Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams caught a train from Bath to Leeds this week, not quite remembering the last time she was in the city.
“I remember I was in Leeds with the torch relay in 2012,” she recalls. “It could have been then. It’s purely for the odd job that I might be based up here.”
This week’s assignment involved sitting in a hot tub as part of Jacuzzi UK’s sponsorship of seven races in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup 2015.
A different discipline to skeleton in which Williams excelled yet all part of the winter sports family.
And three years on from her retirement, the former golden girl hopes to provide the perfect inspiration to winter sporting stars of the future with James and Rob Machon, Rich Stead, Zoe Gillings and Dom Harrington among those flying the flag for Leeds.
All four have eyes on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea – a Games that will be eight years on from Williams’ crowning moment at Vancouver 2010.
In being crowned female skeleton champion, the Bath ace became Great Britain’s first Winter Games individual gold medallist for 30 years and first woman for 52.
The Somerset-based athlete had then hoped to become the first woman to win back-to-back golds at Sochi 2014 but injuries scuppered that plan and forced an early retirement in April 2012.
Instead, it was left for the new golden girl of British skeleton in Lizzy Yarnold to claim gold with the likes of James Machon, Gillings and Harrington among those representing Leeds.
And the continually growing popularity in GB winter sports has delighted 33-year-old Williams – responsible for putting her nation on the Winter Games map in 2010 but with the foundations actually put in place in the run up to Turin 2006.
Team GB could only send one skeleton competitor to Turin 2006 – Williams or Sheffield-based Shelley Rudman, with Williams recalling: “Our sport has developed massively from the Turin Games when we only had one competitor so I was a reserve and Shelley went.
“I was in Turin commentating and it just put a fire in my belly that I was never going to watch another Olympic Games. I was going to compete.
“For four years my whole entire life was blinkered dedication because I knew that as Great Britain got better we would qualify two places so me and Shelley’s results over the next few years enables us to have two places in Vancouver.
“Then if we hadn’t have medalled in Vancouver then the sport wasn’t going to be funded any more. We knew we had to medal in Vancouver to keep the funding and, for example, to be getting Lizzie Yarnold the money to go to the next Games in Sochi.
“In that sense it was really important that someone, man, female or whatever, got a medal in Vancouver just to keep the next generation going.”
Sochi skeleton champion Yarnold heads that new generation and, like Williams, ended up excelling at a winter sport upon switching from a summer one.
Yarnold, 27, used to be a javelin thrower while Williams was formerly a 400m runner who ended up trying her hand at something different after visiting the skeleton push track in her hometown of Bath.
The rest, as they say, is history though for the 2010 heroine there’s a definite case of what might have been.
“I retired in April 2012 so I was 31 but I don’t have any regrets,” said Williams.
“It was my body that stopped me.
“I have had four knee ops, my latest one only six months ago and I busted one literally weeks after I had just retired when I was helping out with a new piece of equipment in the gym with my new coach.
“I’ve got a lot of disc problems so I had epidurals twice a year, nerve blocks, I haven’t been able to feel one of my legs for years and I was in agony every single day.
“Even in Vancouver at the race I was taped up, my disc had slipped days before the race and I couldn’t even tie my shoelace up. I never told anyone.
“My doctors were very much ‘you’ve got to retire after Vancouver because of your body’ but I wasn’t ready and I still wanted to go on a little bit.
“If it wasn’t for the pain I was in every day I wanted to be the first person to get two medals and I really believed I could get another medal.
“I’d clicked my code, things had worked and I’d worked out stuff but I was in agony every day so I needed to stop so I don’t regret it at all.
“You’d still have injuries, I need knee replacements I’ve been told, I’ve just had one knee done and I’ve just sold my four storey town house for a bungalow and that’s the repercussions of sport that no-one sees because I’m injured for life but I don’t regret a single thing.
“It’s been emotional, especially when I was at Sochi because I was commentating. Lizzie had won but I wanted to be there competing like old mates.
“But then because I believed so much I could have got another medal it gave me the guts to be like ‘I know what I believe inside and my body is more important’.”
Thankfully, Williams will always have the glorious memory of Vancouver 2010 to cherish and sport’s loss has been television’s gain. Relishing testing out the “slightly wacky, wild things” on Gadget Show whilst still committed to winter sports commentary, Williams has plenty to celebrate at present – and also had the ultimate celebration this summer.
The former golden girl of Team GB and fiancé Craig Ham tied the knot in August after meeting in scarcely believable circumstances.
You would assume that dating network site Tinder would not be the obvious place to find pretty Olympic gold medal winners but that assumption would be wrong. Williams laughed: “I went on as a joke because my friends were like ‘Amy, you need to get a date, you need to find a man in your life’.
“I just thought ‘right, everyone is ranting on about this Tinder, good things, bad things, let’s see what the whole thing is about’.
“I kind of did it a little bit in disguise but Craig, my now husband, had only just joined the day before for exactly the same reason. I didn’t even know what I was doing, I didn’t read the instructions or whatever but I was on a train through Reading station where he was based at the time and we were the right distance. He took me out on a date the next day and we got engaged after three months.”
It means Williams now has a partner to reflect on her Vancouver glories with, and rest assured there is a special celebration every year.
Reflecting on what her Vancouver gold means to her five years on, Williams pondered: “For a gold medallist I think I was Britain’s first individual woman for 52 and first individual for 30.
“I think it was Clare Balding that told me that fact when I walked through the media zone after the race. You don’t even think about it. You are just in that little whirlwind but every year on my medals anniversary – a couple of days after the race – I always open up a bottle of champagne. I am just toasting the birthday of the medal.”
To that, Leeds will raise a glass as well.
Amy was interviewed at the Jacuzzi showroom in Leeds. Jacuzzi is the official sponsor of 7 races in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup 2015! For more visit Jacuzzi.co.uk