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You can forgive Marcus Wyatt for feeling a bit flabbergasted at seeing the headline “Wyatt wins Beijing silver,” writes Rachel Steinberg.
It’s not a sort of Yuletide paranormal phenomenon to mark the beginning of the festive – and winter sports – season. No Dickensian Ghosts of Olympic future visited the athlete at his hometown of Honiton, or at British Skeleton’s University of Bath HQ.
The medal is one hundred percent real. Wyatt won it at a test event on the brand-new, state-of-the-art, dragon-inspired Beijing Games track last month. But when your most potent Olympic memory is just missing out on qualifying in 2018, that sliver of silverware can feel pretty surreal.
“It’s huge. I’m still—I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet,” said the 29-year-old, who is one of over 1,000 athletes who are able to train full-time, access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to vital National Lottery funding.
“I didn’t expect to do—I knew I could do quite well, but to come away with a medal was huge. It just gives you that extra confidence. I know it is going to be a long, tough season trying to qualify for the Games.
“But to have that in your back pocket, there’s something quite special about having performed on the Olympic track and to know that’s not going to change. The competition’s going to be the same, roughly the same people.
“Just to have that sitting in the background, hopefully the season goes really well and I’ll qualify as easily as possible. But it gives [me] that extra bonus that I can go and contend there for a medal.”
Just 25 athletes will compete in each gender category in Beijing this February, with each country able to send a maximum three men and three women, and critical qualification events taking place in the next few months. British women have medalled in five consecutive Games for the dominant Team GB skeleton squad, with Lizzy Yarnold becoming the first Brit to defend a Winter Olympic medal at the PyeongChang Games in 2018, sharing the podium with third-placed Laura Deas, likely to be the squad’s only veteran in Beijing.
South Korea also marked another milestone, with Dom Parsons claiming the first skeleton medal for British men in over 70 years.
Parsons retired after that PyeongChang bronze, but the buzz around Beijing is that this could be the year a British man could land on—or even on top of—the podium.
While 2018 will go down fondly for British Skeleton, it was a less-than-favourable year for Wyatt.
“It was not a great feeling to be told that I wasn’t going,” said Wyatt, who is bidding to add to the 1,000+ Olympic and Paralympic medals achieved by TeamGB since National Lottery funding to elite sport started in 1997.
“[But] people have said to me since, did it make you hungrier for four years? My honest answer is no, because I’ve never wanted something as much as I’ve wanted to go to a Games and compete.”
Wyatt finished eighth in last season’s World Cup, with GB team-mate Matt Weston just one place below him. And all three British men – Craig Thompson rounds out the squad – found their way to a World Cup podium. Wyatt is finally achieving the kind of consistency he’s gunned for since day one—and at just the right time.
The former American footballer—he’s in the Swansea Titans Hall of Fame—often cites F1’s Michael Schumacher as a role model.
But the Buffalo Bills fan also draws inspiration from NFL star JJ Watt, whose total commitment to sport reflects the approach Wyatt, with his insatiable Olympic appetite, will draw from as he aims to banish the ghosts of qualification windows past.
He said: “Everything he did revolved around how he could get better.
“It’s those heroes I’ve tried to embody, because for me that’s so important – to just give everything you’ve got.
“And if you fall short, at the end of the day, you can say, ‘I gave it my all, so it is what it is.’”
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