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Muddy meets: Lizzy Yarnold

Hurtling headfirst down a track at 90mph is a breeze in comparison to the grilling she got from St Andrew's School kids.

Lizzy Yarnold OBE Team GB double Olympic gold medallist in skeleton

Who better to open a brand spanking new school sports hall and indoor pool, than a Team GB Olympic champion? One who’s just been honoured by the Queen, of course. Say hello to Lizzy Yarnold OBE.

She’s Britain’s most successful Winter Olympian having won two consecutive gold medals in the Skeleton. Being the fastest in the world throwing yourself down an ice track at 90mph is impressive, inspirational and, let’s be honest, a bit bonkers. Her Maj thought so too, so she upgraded Lizzy’s MBE for an OBE just a couple of days before Lizzy spent the day with kids at St Andrew’s Prep in Pangbourne and officially opened their top notch new building. Does it get better than that?

The Sports Halls has been years in the planning, cost a whopping £4million, and has been designed to ensure everyone can get active. There’s a 9m climbing wall, 25m indoor swimming pool, dance studio, 650m2 sports hall, which can be used for tennis, badminton, netball, basketball or volleyball. It’s also equipped with hockey/soccer goals and four indoor cricket nets.

I reviewed St Andrew’s this time last year (read all about it here) and headmaster Jon Bartlett was incredibly proud to have brought the project across the finishing line, collaborating with disability charity SportsAble every step of the way to ensure the facility was suitable for disabled kids and adults too.

Lizzy, who lives with her husband James in Portsmouth (he works for Ben Ainsley’s Americas Cup team), attended a prep school in Kent before moving on to a state grammar school, so she knows all about the sporty stuff on both sides of the educational fence. While the kids’ were admiring Lizzy’s gold medals and Lizzy was admiring the first ‘Lizzy Yarnold OBE’ plaque, Muddy had a quick natter with Team GB’s Golden Girl…

Winter Olympian Lizzy Yarnold with the kids from St Anrew's School Pangbourne at opening of Sport Hall

Congrats on the OBE

Thanks. I’m hugely honoured as it’s been a great year for me, and Team GB, and to receive it on the Queen’s birthday honours list means so much. I want to encourage future generations of skeleton athletes and I think that this honour will increase support for the sport that I love. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Going for gold

My gold medal is like Frodo’s ring – the children’s faces light up. If I can be a role model to them that’s the most important thing.

Rather than revel in her success she plans to visit more schools to inspire kids to take up sport.

After Sochi, that was my most important thing – I went to 300 or 400 of them in the six months afterwards. I certainly wouldn’t pursue celebrity status.

Fail to succeed 

My favourite message, whatever you do, playing the clarinet or being an artist, keep going with it and believe in yourself – and learn the lessons of failure. I fail so much more than I succeed. St Andrew’s is a place where the children are going to learn to do climbing, new dance routines, how to fail when they lose a match and how to win. But every time they walk out of that door, they’ll be a better person than they were when they walked in. And that’s what it’s all about. Sport is for fun and hard work.

Facing fears

Look at that climbing wall. It’s terrifying. With the Skeleton, once you are in it, there’s no getting out. Yes, you’re headfirst down the ice at 90mph but doing something like climbing, every step you take, you’re like, ‘Oh God’.

Gulp! We know what you mean, Lizzy. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger [Ma Muddy wisdom].

The future’s bright

I’m so pleased this facility is going to be used by both the school and the children in the local community. It just means the standard goes up across the board. Matches become more competitive and the kids’ skills are improved. I’m passionate about encouraging children to lead an active life and to believe in themselves and I can see this is very evident at St Andrew’s.

I have always loved all sport. I still play tennis, although don’t have the control to keep it in the court and it takes about an hour to get a rally going – but I love it. Shot put was my thing at school and I was pretty good. I even won a bronze medal at the Nationals. I aspired to the spin, but I was a glider. I really want a go now but, uhhh, I can’t.

Probably for the best. Lizzy’s resting her battered body after her gold medal win, so scraping a double Olympian off the floor wouldn’t be her best look. 

Battle of the sexes

I’d love to see more mixed teams in schools. The whole system is set up so that boys and girls do not play together but, to be honest, if I had played more sports with the boys I think it would have massively improved my game. You’re up against a different style of play and that will always sharpen your skills.

Olympic future

It’s crazy to think that some too the children here could be competing at Paris 2026. Will I compete in Beijing 2022? No decisions have been made. The big goal was to always go to another Olympic Games, to go to PyeongChang and defend my title. So, I’m still working out the next step, still having a break. The last proper break was four years ago. I need to work out who I am again without the daily of gym, track, eat, sleep, recover, stretch. This year has certainly taught me that sport is hard and tough and takes a tremendous amount of work.

Lizzy fun facts: 

  • Yarnold’s sled is called Mervyn, after a former work colleague who sponsored her when she needed money to continue competing.
  • She hoped to become a modern pentathlete before being ‘talent identified’ and encouraged to take up skeleton.
  • Yarnold often listens to grime music before her races. She listened to Dizzee Rascal moments before her first Olympic triumph in 2014.
  • The 29-year-old’s hobbies are knitting and listening to The Archers.
  • Yarnold is known by other members of the British skeleton squad as ‘She-Ra’ – a cartoon character who is the Princess of Power.

Fancy having a nose at St Andrew’s, email

St Andrew’s School, Buckhold Pangbourne, Nr Reading, RG8 8QA. Tel: 0118 974 4276.

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