Skeleton - Rudman: British futures hinge on World Championships

Britain's newly-crowned Skeleton World Cup overall winner Shelley Rudman explains why the this week's World Championships are so important for the future prospects of British sliders.

Skeleton - Rudman: British futures hinge on World Championships

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2012 women's skeleton Calgary Shelley Rudman

Rudman, who claimed her overall title in the final meeting of the series in Calgary earlier in February, will be competing for Team GB in Lake Placid in both the women's and the team event.

Ahead of the championships, which will be broadcast live on British Eurosport 2, Rudman tells Eurosport how one weekend of competition will determine how much vital lottery funding each British skeleton racer will receive for the next two years, rather than the five-month World Cup campaign.

With the next Winter Olympics to be staged in Sochi, Russia in two years' time, performances at Lake Placid will go a long way to making or breaking many British competitors' dreams of a place at the 2014 Games.

Rudman also spoke about her dramatic overall World Cup victory, the system which is bringing through new British talent and how she considered giving up the sport altogether after the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Congratulations on your recent World Cup victory. Is it more special to win it after coming close on several occasions?

Absolutely. It is a really hard title to win because you have got to be consistent throughout the whole World Cup series. You have to stay injury-free and try to be on the podium as much as possible.

When I had a bad race in Winterberg (failing to qualify for the top 10 shoot-out) the weather was just so detrimental for a lot of the athletes. I thought maybe it had scuppered my overall World Cup title, but it actually affected quite a few of the world's top five athletes, so it's swings and roundabouts throughout the season.

I picked it up after Christmas, had podium finishes at all of the races and managed to secure the overall World Cup title. It was great because it is a title that I've been going for over the past four years, and I had come second for the past three. So this year was really special. 

It must be frustrating to be so at the mercy of the elements, even though you don't rely on snow.

Obviously we do a winter sport - but it’s an ice sport and not a snow sport. Sometimes the weather can really affect you. On a race day the majority of the track is open to the elements and if it snows heavily you end up having to rely on luck with regards to your race draw and when the track workers sweep the track.

I had three races where the snow affected me during the World Cups (Winterberg, St Moritz and Altenberg). Konigssee, Igls, Calgary and Whistler were the only tracks where we had really good ice, so it was an interesting season. 

Lizzy Yarnold won in Calgary to add to her junior title. With the two of you and 2010 Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams, this must be healthiest British women's skeleton has been for some time.

I think we've got strong girls coming through. Lizzy (pictured, right) has shown some really good form, but there is also Rose McGrandle, who won the Intercontinental Cup. So it’s exciting.

To what would you attribute that success?

As far as the new girls are concerned, they were talent ID’d from various sports and after their talent screening they showed that they were strongly suited to skeleton. They have been trained intensively on tracks for the first two years of their skeleton careers. That way they can work out what suits them best so that when they compete on new tracks they are ready for them.

Whereas the older athletes on the World Cup tour came through having to do races rather than having an intense two-year training regime before they were unleashed on competitive circuits.

That seems to be the way the sport is going and that system has been successful with a lot of nations, not just Britain. The Germans and Canadians in particular do it.

Winning the World Cup title must be the ideal boost going into the World Championships. How will that challenge differ?

At the beginning of this season I had just dedicated myself to getting on the World Cup squad and being as consistent as I could to win the overall World Cup title, and I didn't look any further than that.

I’ve now qualified for the World Champs and, for me, my goal is not a race finish ranking, but just to be consistent over the four runs, be competitive for each of those runs and if I can do that then we'll see what the outcome is. 

You have to do two runs and then go home and review your performance overnight, ready for the final two runs the next day. So it's a different concept that you have to deal with.

I’ve had many experiences throughout my career at Championship, Olympic and World Cup events - both good and bad. Anything can happen. I came away from the Turin Winter Olympics (in 2006) ecstatic after winning an Olympic silver medal after only four years of taking up the sport and thought everything was amazing, whereas at the Vancouver Olympics I saw a side to human nature I didn’t like or agree with which left me contemplating whether or not I stayed in the sport.

I decided to have two months away from the sport and consider my options. I still felt I hadn’t reached my potential and that I wanted to continue, but if I did I wanted to be pretty much self-dependent and work with people who really stuck by me when the chips were down and who helped build me back up again.

Do you see the World Cup as a truer test of who is the best?

I think the World Cup is the prestige event within our sport. A lot of the top sliders who have won both the World Cup and the World Championships say that the World Cup is the hardest one to win because it is over such a long duration. It is a lot of pressure, not just overnight but over the course of five months. Having to deal with that is quite hard. 

In the UK, the World Championships is the only event that is recognised for our funding. So for me to go up a category in my lottery funding, which would make a huge difference to me, I need to be in the top three. To remain on the level that I am, I need to be between fourth and eighth. That's the same for all the British athletes.

So the World Championships is the one that will make a difference for everyone's funding over the next two years. That's where the pressure lies, to try and get that. It’s a shame the overall World Cup wasn’t included in there as well, because you are showing that you are at the top over a longer period. 

Will there be quite a lot of competition for the Team GB spots at Sochi 2014?

We won't know the number of places we have been designated until the Olympic year. In pre-Olympic year they will do a test event at the venue in Sochi, and then in Olympic year we get our quotas just before the final World Cup race finale. 

How do you and Kristan (Bromley, British men's skeleton competitor) balance training and competition with parenthood?

We are quite lucky in that Ella, our little girl, comes out with us as much as we can afford. When it comes to expensive World Cup races such as Whistler then she will stay at home and our parents will bring her out with them. We all stay together in apartments or houses so that her environment is always similar to home. Kristan and I will just operate like we would normally. 

Both Kristan and I are pretty independent and self-contained when it comes to coaching. I usually arrive at a track, do a track walk and work out all my steers by myself. I will then work them out instinctively on the track when I am doing my six runs, so I don't need to pester Kristan as he'll be doing the same. If I'm really stuck with a sequence or set of curves then I'll go to Kristan and discuss it, and we'll see if there is a better driving line that might suit me best. Likewise, if he is struggling then he will come and talk to me.

We both self-coach. We have a GB support team that video us, and we then collect that footage at the end of the day, but we will analyse the footage ourselves. It’s a formula that works for us and we’re fortunate that British Skeleton is flexible in allowing us to work this way.

Have you both tried working with coaches, but prefer to do it yourselves?

After the 2006 Olympics, I decided I needed to start learning myself rather than relying on a lot of people. If ever it came to the point where I had to go down a track without a coach, I needed to be able to understand the ice and read it myself, and also to choose my runners and all the set-up. It's been working really well.

For some of the races we have Richard Bromley, (Kristan's brother and Bromley technologies sled engineer), who will help with the set-up of the sled and my race day preparations, so it relieves me of that, which is really helpful because it allows me to focus elsewhere.

Do you feel your results have vindicated you in that approach?

I feel like things are going in the right direction. I’ve been an Olympic silver medallist, European champion twice, overall World Cup champion, World Student Games champion and have been the leading British female for the past eight years. I’m really proud of those achievements. 

Follow the Skeleton World Championships this weekend on British Eurosport 2:

Women's 1st & 2nd Run - Thursday 2.40pm

Women's 3rd & 4th Run - Friday 8.15pm

Men's 1st & 2nd Run - Friday 10pm

Men's 3rd & 4th Run - Saturday 10pm

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