Britain's first Winter Olympic gold medallist since 1980 says "If you really know what you want to achieve, don't let anyone else stop you."
Raise Your Game: How does it feel to be the first British person in 30 years to win a medal at the Winter Olympics?
Amy Williams: I only found out that fact afterwards, so that was quite a big shock to realise the achievement. The whole games experience for me was just absolutely amazing. It was my first games and to be around all the other sports in team GB, and to have all the other nations in one place eating dinner together, was such a unique experience. I think that was the best thing, knowing that there were all the top athletes in the world all in one place. It was just like a huge community.
29 September 1982, Cambridge
- Gold - Winter Olympics, Vancouver (2010)
- Silver - World Championships, Lake Placid (2009)
- Fifth - European Championships, Cesena (2008)
- Fifth - World Championships, Alternburg (2008)
- Seventh - World Championships, St Moritz (2007)
RYG: Going into the games, what were your expectations?
AW: I obviously didn't expect gold, but I knew if everything went to plan I could be up there with a potential medal hope. I just wanted to know that I'd performed at my best. I think in a lot of other races, I'd always done a lot better in my training than I had in the race, so I just wanted to race better than I had trained, if you do that then you're always happy.
My training had gone well and I knew that I'd had a good result there (at Whistler) the previous year in a World Cup. Also, knowing that I had done all my preparation and all the hard work made me realise that I had nothing to lose. Whatever happened I knew that I'd done everything to a hundred percent and therefore I didn't have any regrets. Because I let that go, I just performed really well and didn't have that feeling of regretting or missing out on anything.
RYG: What can you remember about the runs that won you gold?
AW: I always take a deep breath, just to calm and relax myself. To begin with you're just thinking about your push and trying to be as strong and as powerful at the top. As soon as you land on your sled you're trying to just concentrate. You've done all your mental imagery before your runs in the changing rooms, going through the corners in your head and what steers you're going to do, and it's trying to empty your brain when you're actually on the sled that's a very hard thing to do.
With skeleton the race is the first thing that you're aware of and then the people. In training you didn't have so many hundreds of people. It did blur out a little bit because you're obviously concentrating on what you're doing, but to me that was quite a big shock. I knew that I had to do my steers in certain places on the corners and I was purely concentrating on that and the feeling you get from the corners.
RYG: How do you keep your composure when you're going down the track at 90 mph?
AW: You don't know how fast you are actually going and every one you do, you get used to speed more and more. So in one sense that's not really a problem. I was nervous and my legs felt quite tense at the top and I was a bit disappointed with my pushes.
I felt happy with all my preparation, so I thought well what's the point in being super nervous? When you're nervous you don't really enjoy the moment and you don't enjoy racing. I was at the top of the race and I thought this is the Olympics I've got to enjoy it, I'm here because I want to be. I changed something in my head because I said that and then just enjoyed it.
RYG: Is it important to enjoy sport?
AW: Yes. You have ups and downs in sport and unless you really enjoy what you're doing, you won't ever get through those times. You sometimes have good races, bad races, good runs or bad runs.
I've made mistakes in the past and thought "Why am I doing this?" But when you're relaxing you think you've chosen to do this, you've chosen to be out there and you've chosen to train this hard because you enjoy it. I stood at the track (in Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010) and I just kind of smiled at myself in my helmet and thought 'This is great'. When you enjoy it, you slide quicker.
RYG: So enjoyment brings out the best in people in sport?
AW: I'd like to think so. Every athlete is different and prepares in different ways, how they psych themselves up or get ready for a race. But I know when I haven't had such good races and results that I look back and I didn't enjoy what I was doing. It frees your mind. If you're in that moment and loving what you're doing, then the best comes out of you.
RYG: How important is preparation? Did the fact that you missed the 2006 Olympics spur you on to prepare even better?
AW: Yes, the last four years have been really busy. Every choice of every day has been 'Is it going to help you get to the Olympics? Is it the right choice?' What you eat, what time you go to bed every day, what you do in your daily life, how tired you get to whether you'll be able to go into the gym and do your session properly.
Especially in the last year I've been a bit boring and dull because all I've done is concentrated on my training as I didn't want to ruin my chances. For us in skeleton we don't have our own track so you need to make sure that you've done everything outside of the slide and track stuff to your best.
RYG: How did you get involved in skeleton bob?
AW: I was lucky living in Bath as we have this push track. I just had a go on our push track one day and was pretty quick, a lot of us are from sprinting and athletics backgrounds because the start is so important. You need to be a good sprinter. If you're not from a sprinting background, then ultimately you're not going to make it to the very top.
I paid my own way and went out to an army ice camp in Lillehammer in Norway. I thought I've got nothing to lose, I had a go on the ice and took it from there.
RYG: Although skeleton bob is a solo event, how important is it to have the right team behind you?
AW: I think that's massively important. Unless you've got those people - the team in Bath, my sprint and athletics coaches, the medical teams, the doctors, the physio's and also your family and friends who help you keep going - it's really tough. They try and watch me as much as possible just to support me. It's hard when you're away. We travel for six months a year and we're away from everyone, so it's massively important.
RYG: You finished a sports performance degree in Bath in 2007, how hard was it to commit to that and your sport?
AW: Yes, it was really difficult. Ideally I wanted to do an art degree, but I found skeleton in the same summer and decided not to apply because I would have moved away and I wanted to stay in Bath. So I signed up for a different sports degree in Bath which was full time and it was the same year I started skeleton.
I just found it too hard, I wanted to completely concentrate on the sport, so I quit the degree after a year and a few years later took up a part-time sports performance degree. To be honest it was really hard because all the lectures were in the winter and I was always away in the winter. I had to come back in the summer and do all the essays then.
RYG: Now you're back in the UK how surreal was it to go on an open top bus tour round Bath and receive a message from the Prime Minister?
AW: (Laughs) Yes, it's crazy! I didn't quite realise how massive it would be when I got home. Out in the Olympics you're just in a different bubble and until I got off the plane and the photographers were there in my face, I didn't quite realise. The bus tour was amazing. The amount of people that had come out and they knew who I was, I was completely overwhelmed by it.
It's quite a busy few weeks ahead. It is crazy, but at the same time I'm so glad that I've been able to bring back a medal to lift everyone's spirits and encourage people to start taking up sport. I think it's an inspiration for people.
RYG: Do you enjoy the fact that everyone knows who you are now?
AW: I think it is a little scary and obviously I'm not used to that. I'm going to have to learn to get used to my face being out there. I'm not naturally an extrovert, I'm quite shy really. I accept that's going to happen and I know everyone will probably follow results. I'll be working for another four years to the next Olympics so I'll gradually work myself back up to the position that I've been in.
RYG: What are your plans for the future?
AW: To be honest I've not really thought so far ahead. At the moment I'm not too worried whether I stay in sport, whether I stay with a big organisation like UK Sport, or work within the BOA (British Olympic Association) or something like that. I'm sure I could always get a job or do something completely different and go back and do an art degree. It'll be one or the other, stay in the sport or completely do the opposite.
RYG: How important is the right attitude in order to succeed?
AW: Vital. You can have someone who's got massive talent, but if they don't have the attitude and that drive to succeed then they won't make it. Equally, someone who has maybe got a bit less talent but has got all the rest, they'll make it. It's never an easy road to the end journey and if you've got all those other components, you will get there in the end.
RYG: How do you overcome low points in sport?
AW: You have to sort of step outside of that bubble. Sometimes you can get really sucked down. Get some perspective - What am I trying to achieve here? Go back to your goals, go back to what you want to achieve and look at yourself. Is it really as bad as it seems? Take a step back. Take a bit of perspective. What have I achieved here? What are the positives? Always go back to the positives. There is always something good, you've just got to look and find it.
RYG: What advice would you give to young people aiming to follow in your foosteps?
AW: If you've got that dream in front of you, you want to go to the Olympics or you want to achieve something, write it down as your goal and do everything possible to try and get it.
There's a lot of pressure on young people. People are telling you "Don't do that, do this," and when I was at school there was so much pressure to go out and drink and to party and I just said no to all of it. I was the boring one in bed at 9 o'clock or half nine. If you really know what you want to achieve, don't let anyone else stop you, work and train hard.