Olympiade 2022

Erstellt am 19. Oktober 2017

The Sunday Times


17. September 2017, 12:01am 

Olympic hopeful Ashleigh Pittaway happy to opt for Britain over Germany

Teenager set to follow in tradition of other GB bob skeleton winners

Andrew Longmore


It is much too early to claim that the happy tradition of British triumph on the Olympic ice track is in safe hands, but when Ashleigh Pittaway joined the GB bob skeleton squad full time three weeks ago, a succession plan could at least be etched in pencil.

Pittaway has already shown her talent by winning gold at the Winter Youth Olympics, at the age of 15, but her route to the door of a programme that has produced medals, including two golds, at every Winter Olympics since the women’s skeleton was reintroduced into the Games in 2002, has not been entirely straightforward. Pittaway’s father, David, is English and her mother, Melanie, German. Ashleigh herself has been brought up in Munich, a decent drive away from Königssee, one of the main sliding centres in a passionate winter sports nation.

Pittaway initially followed in her father’s footsteps as a trampolinist but quickly discovered that hurtling down an ice wall at speeds of 50mph with her chin an inch from the ground appealed rather more to the daredevil side of her nature.

“I’ve always liked extraordinary things,” she says. “I’ve always loved rollercoasters and the sense of speed. But I didn’t exactly take to skeleton straightaway. When I first tried it, I was terrified, but I just didn’t want to admit it to anyone. I tried not to show how scared I was.”

Pittaway showed enough talent at an early age to interest the scouts in the German system, but news of her ability and heritage quickly reached the ears of Andi Schmid, the performance adviser of the GB bob skeleton programme. The courtship took a while but Schmid, a former world champion from Austria, is a hugely respected figure in the sport and a persuasive talker, and he had a hefty slice of history on his side.

Since 2002, when Alex Coomber won a bronze in Salt Lake City, Britain — a nation with an ageing push track, little snow and no sliding track but a very sharp eye for a champion — has won a medal at every Winter Games. There was silver for Shelley Rudman in Turin in 2006, then gold for Amy Williams in Vancouver in 2010 and Lizzy Yarnold in Sochi in 2014.

Pittaway signed up for the GB squad in 2016, winning her first four races — qualifiers for the Youth Olympics — and a gold in a GB suit. “I did trampolining when I was about nine or 10,” Pittaway says in near perfect English, her second language. “Then I went to a German winter sports school and tried out skeleton. The Winter Olympics was my big target for three or four years and it was a great feeling to achieve that.

“The German programme is tough to get into but there was an opportunity for me to change to another programme. It was a big decision to commit to another country, but I’m happy with the decision.”

At 17, Pittaway has now moved to Bath and, in between her training and racing, she will study at Bath College. “It’s a big move away from home and to a new country,” she says. “For a year or two we were in Malta and I went to an English school. That’s where I learnt to speak English and that is really a help. But I’m getting to know people and everybody has been very supportive.”

Schmid has seen plenty of talented young athletes fall by the wayside on the way from junior to senior ranks in a sport that tests courage and character to the limit. But there is an understandable air of anticipation in the British ranks as Pittaway, who has spent the past couple of seasons in second-tier competition on the European circuit while completing her schooling, is launched into an Olympic year.

The first step for Pittaway is to secure a place within the World Cup squad at the GB selection trials next month. With Yarnold, the defending champion, and Laura Deas established as the British numbers one and two, Pittaway will need to scrap for the third place available on the squad. Qualification for the Olympics is a tantalising but distant prospect.

“Ashleigh is very young, but she has lots of potential,” says Schmid. “She’s the team kid so you cannot say that 2018 will be a goal or anything. I’m not saying that she cannot prove herself, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on her, not now.”

Pittaway’s feel for the ice and instinct for taking the right lines through corners, has been developed on the track at Konigssee and its feared Kreisel turn. Her start, an historic strength of GB sliders, needs work. Learning the tracks and different conditions, and adapting raw pace to the needs of the moment, will be key lessons for this season.

“I have a small chance of qualifying [for the Winter Olympics] this time,” she says. “But the main focus is 2022 and 2026. I am aiming to be the next Amy, the next Lizzy. I watch Lizzy all the time. She helps me to learn, so I hope to get there.”

The succession looks pretty secure.